Unilever Addresses Public Health Crisis With Global Handwashing Day Campaign

Posted by Sheila Shayon on October 15, 2012 04:55 PM

An estimated 3,000 kids die daily, and more than 3.5 million children do not live to the age of five, largely due to diarrhea and pneumonia – both manageable with soap and water. People worldwide wash their hands with water, but far too few use soap, particularly at crucial moments such as after using the toilet, cleaning a child, or before handling food.

In 2008, Unilever, its Lifebuoy soap brand, and Population Services International (PSI) joined forces to declare October 15th Global Handwashing Day. Last year, the public-private partnership produced a PSA starring actress Mandy Moore, among other efforts.

This year's Global Handwashing Day bring a new partnership with the Millennium Villages Project, a joint effort by the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the United Nations Development Program. The PSA simply asks for support for an initiative working with 500,000 people in rural villages across ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa as part of a bigger goal to reach one billion people:

“We are not trying to make sustainability a separate agenda; we’re trying to make it a central agenda,” stated Unilever CMO Keith Weed. “We didn’t want it to be a couple of pages in a magazine but a commitment that the whole company could get behind.” Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan has to date reached an estimated 50 million residents of Africa and South Asia with the message to soap up, with its outreach efforts centered around its Lifebuoy brand.

For this year's Global Handwashing Day, consumers are being asked to pledge on Lifebuoy's Facebook page and donate at (follow the Twitter hashtag #iwashmyhands to see the impressive array of partners involved). Just $10 will help educate 20 children about the importance of handwashing and contribute to the (UN's 2015) Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths among children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015. “We look at the world through a lens, which we call VUCA, which stands for 'Volatile, Unstable, Complex, and Ambiguous,'" said Weed. “So you can say, 'It’s a very tough world,' or you can say, 'It’s a world that’s changing fast, and we can help consumers navigate through it.'"

"The big issues the world is facing require new approaches, new business models and new partnerships. Responsible businesses must take a more active leadership role," stated Paul Polman, Unilever CEO. "It is unacceptable that two million children die every year from infectious diseases when we have easy and cheap lifesaving solutions, such as handwashing with soap, readily available."

To explain the scope of the health crisis and need for better hygiene, Myriam Sidibe, the global social mission director for Lifebuoy, wrote a blog post for the Harvard Business Review titled, "The Private Sector Needs to Come Clean About Doing Good," in which she noted the brand's activist roots:

William Lever, who founded Lever Brothers, one of the forerunners of Unilever, launched Lifebuoy soap in the northwest of England in 1894. He wanted to produce an affordable soap that people living in the overcrowded slums of Liverpool (which had experienced a rapid population influx as the second city of the British Empire) could use to protect themselves from the spread of cholera. He saw a business opportunity in a social issue.

This year Lifebuoy also produced a video featuring researcher Val Curtis, a professor/researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a self-described "disgustologist," as the New York Times and BBC have noted. The behavioral scientist, who co-founded the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap, has a background in engineering, epidemiology and anthropology that led her to focus her research around behaviour change, especially in water, sanitation and hygiene.

Below, Curtis talks about the health impacts of handwashing, and the design and testing of programs to promote handwashing with soap with a diverse range of partners:

As part of its bigger sustainability and corporate citizenship commitment, Unilever recently released a Facebook and mobile app designed to facilitate charitable giving, called Waterworks, and signed on as a major partner of UNICEF's Every Woman Every Child public health campaign via its foundation, as Polman discusses below:

[Image at top via Unilever/Facebook]


JaJones United States says:

Curious why Unilever is associating this campaign with its Lifebuoy brand, which I associate with men and deodorants, instead of its Dove brand, which would seem to be a better fit with its target of moms and kids. Or is that more associated with women and beauty, with that whole "real women" campaign?

October 15, 2012 08:37 PM #

Shirley Brady United States says:

I can't speak for Unilever, of course, but Dove is indeed a beauty soap/brand for the company, while Lifebuoy is positioned as a health soap. Lifebuoy puts "visible action" around improving world hygiene at the heart of its brand promise:

October 15, 2012 08:43 PM #

sshayon United States says:

"Lifebuoy is one of Unilever's oldest brands, a brand that was truly 'global' before the term 'global brand' was invented. Lifebuoy Royal Disinfectant Soap was launched in 1894 as an affordable new product in the UK, to support people in their quest for better personal hygiene."

October 16, 2012 09:49 AM #

jim Mann United States says:

The program's target is more underdeveloped markets where the Lifebouy brand may be more important to future growth.

October 16, 2012 08:35 AM #

Hipolito Kilbourn United States says:

Maybe off topic: Greece is in a serious depression, youth unemployment is 55% while general unemployment is 25%+.So we need help from abroad...|I agree with your point of view. Please, I would like to translate this article in romanian and then to post it on my personal blog, linking to your webpage as source. Is this possible ? Thanks in advance.

October 21, 2012 10:26 AM #

hotel pas cher thailande United States says:

Pourquoi cette annee , ne pas venir a Phuket et jouir de la gentillesse des thailandais ? Faites vous chouchouter dans les spas a un prix extraordinaire. Regalez vous de la bonne cuisine thaie. Pour votre hebergement , pas de probleme , voici nos hotels..

October 22, 2012 10:22 PM #

Comments are closed

elsewhere on brandchannel

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
brandcameo2014 Product Placement Awards
Apple loses its crown to a new #1
Coca-ColaIt's the Journey That Matters:
Coca-Cola Opens Up With Story-Based Web Refresh
debateJoin the Debate
Is product placement a waste of money?
Arthur Chinski and Joshua Mizrahi
Model Behavior? Brands Beware
U.S. Legal Changes Impact Use of Brand Ambassadors
paperCorporate Citizenship in Canada
Fresh thinking from Interbrand
Sheryl Connelly
Sheryl Connelly

Meet Ford's Resident Futurist
Highlighting the Present—and Future—of Branding in Latin America and Iberia