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UNILEVER

Dave Ingram

Chief procurement officer

How does a multinational corporation selling fast-moving consumer goods ensure its supply chain is deforestation-free?  

Well, as crops can be harvested from many areas of land belonging to numerous farmers, the first mile of the supply chain can be hard to even trace. So Unilever launched a pilot programme in August with Orbital Insight, a US tech company using geolocation data to identify farms and plantations that are likely to supply the palm oil mills Unilever goes to. With this, it has vastly improved its supply chain traceability.  

Taking a second step in September, it announced a partnership with Google Cloud to leverage on Google Earth’s satellite maps to gain insights into  those supply chain environments and communities. By doing so, it is able to better detect any deforestation in those areas and can prioritise areas in need of urgent protection.  

“Ten years ago, we didn’t have direct relationships with the farmers [to buy produce]. We are now talking directly to them, which takes care of the first mile of our direct chain. They now understand the benefits of sustainability since their incomes are directly affected by how well they take care of the earth,” says Dave Ingram, chief procurement officer and head of Unilever’s office in Singapore. He adds that the company’s goal is to regenerate nature and help end deforestation in its supply chain by 2023.  

With plans to make sustainable living commonplace, the company rolled out the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) in 2010  – “When, to be honest, most of us had no idea how to reach the goals set in it,” reveals Ingram. 

Ten years on, it has created sustainable agricultural programmes such as water irrigation and good farm practices, and Ingram proudly announces, “Now, we are 62 per cent sustainable in all our crops from 14 per cent in 2010 and at least 97 per cent sustainable in our key crops!”

Health and well-being programmes have been actualised through Lifebuoy, one of Unilever’s largest sustainable living brands purposed to promote healthy hygiene habits through handwashing with soap. Especially in these Covid-19 days, Unilever has donated thousands of soaps, sanitisers, cleaning products and food to the most vulnerable groups in Singapore, including frontline healthcare workers, hawker store owners, migrant workers, the elderly and underprivileged children.  

Another focus of the corporation is to ensure inclusivity by embracing diversity. Unilever’s Global Diversity Board provides the overarching vision, governance and target setting for diversity and inclusion across its business. Through the board, a network of nearly 100 Diversity & Inclusion Champions was set up to encourage an inclusive culture across markets. It also introduced tools that would help to drive gender equality in recruitment.  In another of the corporation’s big goals to enhance livelihoods as part of the USLP, it has been actively driving its Opportunities for Women strategy that challenges social norms around gender.  

Ingram details: “We believe a more diverse and inclusive workforce can boost financial performance, reputation, innovation and staff motivation. This also brings us closer to our consumers, of whom 70 per cent are women.”

Unilever was a founding member, alongside UN Women and other industry leaders, of the Unstereotype Alliance launched in 2017. It set a global ambition for all its brands to advance advertising away from stereotypical portrayals, including gender and age.  

“In a recent Vaseline ad, we featured a lady around 70 years of age who excelled in her trade as a knife sharpener. Such advocacy is much more impactful than using only women of a stereotypical age group and body shape. All these come under one global direction and policy on inclusivity that our CEO Alan Jope has in place,” says Ingram. 

The Vaseline advertisement ran in Singapore recently and is an example of how successfully Unilever has implemented its diversity and inclusivity programmes. It won the  2020 United Women Singapore’s Gender Equality Impact Award  for Gender Equality Impact@Work. 

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