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Unilever-Solidaridad supply chain partnership grows from sugar to gherkins

By Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn+

02-Sep-2014
Last updated on 02-Sep-2014 at 15:42 GMT2014-09-02T15:42:15Z

“If you forget one part [of the supply chain] the goods won’t flow and the money won’t flow,” says Solidaridad. Photo credit: Cbertel
“If you forget one part [of the supply chain] the goods won’t flow and the money won’t flow,” says Solidaridad. Photo credit: Cbertel

A Unilever agreement with Solidaridad is set to extend supply chain sustainability beyond the usual suspects of tea and cocoa to vegetables like gherkins.

It was hoped that the agreement, signed at Unilever’s annual Partner to Win Supplier Summit in London, would affect around one million people in Unilever’s extended supply chains.

Nico Roozen, executive director for Solidaridad Network the NGO specialising in supply chains, said: “Suppliers need access to resources and to markets. We need to change market conditions to shift sustainable production from niche to norm. Unilever and Solidaridad aim to leverage their resources with those of others to have large scale measurable impact.”

The partnership will focus on gender equity, agricultural and labour practices, youth entrepreneurialism and land management for raw materials like tea, cocoa, sugar, palm oil, fruit and vegetables, soy and dairy in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The pair have worked in the past on creating sustainable supply chains for around 150,000 smallholder farmers and workers in India, Mexico and Colombia, although this latest initiative was set to include a broader range of agricultural products such as gherkins, for which the pair was investigating small-scale production in India.

Bram Verkerke, campaigns and corporate communication officer for Solidaridad, told FoodNavigator that projects would follow both Unilever products and the expertise of Solidaridad. He said that the organisation had particular experience in the vegetable sector.

“It will follow the logic of where the suppliers are and where our projects are already. Will try to find synergies – this is the low hanging fruit. For vegetables we are now figuring this out.” 

Funding sustainability

The plan came as part of the Anglo-Dutch multinational’s Responsible Sourcing Policy announced earlier this year. The initiative would be funded by a mixture of public and private grants, credit and investments, for which the pair would share the responsibility of raising the money. Verkerke said substantial funds would also be coming from Unilever themselves, although it was not yet possible to put a figure on this. Three full-time employees would man the project. 

He said it was vital to engage different stakeholders like suppliers and traders, giving the example of Cargill and Ecom that both ran their own sustainability programmes. “If you forget one part [of the supply chain] the goods won’t flow and the money won’t flow and there won’t be a sustainable impact.”

He added that it was important to present these projects as a business case, saying this was easy to do as productivity and quality of output and workforce were all quantifiable.

Following the chain

He said that on-the-ground support would be provided both by Solidaridad Network itself as well as being outsourced to local groups like existing farmer cooperatives, other NGOs and government services, yet quality or availability of services in different regions meant this was not always possible. 

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