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Unilever NV
Unilever PLC
Type Public
( Euronext:  UNA)
( NYSE:  UN) (Unilever N.V.)
( NYSE:  UL) (Unilever PLC)
Industry Conglomerate
Founded 1930

Unilever House, City of London, United Kingdom

Rotterdam, Netherlands
Area served Worldwide
Key people Michael Treschow
( Chairman)
Baron Simon of Highbury
( Vice Chairman)
Paul Polman
( CEO)
Products See brands listing
Revenue €39,823 million (2009)
Operating income €5,020 million (2009)
Net income €3,659 million (2009)
Employees 163,000 (2010)

Unilever is an Anglo-Dutch multinational corporation that owns many of the world's consumer product brands in foods, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products. Unilever N.V. has its head office in Rotterdam, while Unilever PLC has its head office in the Unilever House in the City of London and its registered office in Port Sunlight, Wirral, Merseyside.

Unilever is a dual-listed company consisting of Unilever NV in Rotterdam, The Netherlands and Unilever PLC in London, United Kingdom. This arrangement is similar to those of Reed Elsevier and Royal Dutch Shell prior to their unified structures. Both Unilever companies have the same directors and effectively operate as a single business. The current non-executive Chairman of Unilever N.V. and PLC is Michael Treschow while Paul Polman is Group Chief Executive.

Unilever's main competitors include Danone, Henkel, Kraft Foods, Nestlé, Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, Sara Lee and S.C. Johnson & Son.


Unilever was created in 1930 by the amalgamation of the operations of British soapmaker Lever Brothers and Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie, a merger as palm oil was a major raw material for both margarines and soaps and could be imported more efficiently in larger quantities.

In the 1930s the business of Unilever grew and new ventures were launched in Latin America. In 1972 Unilever purchased A&W Restaurants' Canadian division but sold its shares through a management buyout to former A&W Food Services of Canada CEO Jeffrey Mooney in July 1996. By 1980 soap and edible fats contributed just 40% of profits, compared with an original 90%. In 1984 the company bought the brand Brooke Bond (maker of PG Tips tea).

In 1987 Unilever strengthened its position in the world skin care market by acquiring Chesebrough-Ponds, the maker of Ragú, Pond's, Aqua-Net, Cutex Nail Polish, and Vaseline. In 1989 Unilever bought Calvin Klein Cosmetics, Fabergé, and Elizabeth Arden, but the latter was later sold (in 2000) to FFI Fragrances.

In 1996 Unilever purchased Helene Curtis Industries, giving the company "a powerful new presence in the United States shampoo and deodorant market". The purchase brought Unilever the Suave and Finesse hair-care product brands and Degree deodorant brand.

Global employment at Unilever 2000-2008
Black represents employment numbers in Europe, light grey represents the Americas and dark grey represents Asia, Africa, and Middle East. Between 2000 and 2008 Unilever reduced global workforce numbers by 41%, from 295,000 to 174,000. Note: Europe figures for 2000-2003 are all Europe; from 2004 figures in black are Western Europe. For 2004-2008 Figures for Asia, Africa and Middle East include Eastern and Central Europe.
Source: Unilever Annual Reports 2004, 2008

In 2000 the company absorbed the American business Best Foods, strengthening its presence in North America and extending its portfolio of foods brands. In April 2000 it bought both Ben & Jerry's and Slim Fast.

The company is fully multinational with operating companies and factories on every continent (except Antarctica) and research laboratories at Colworth and Port Sunlight in England; Vlaardingen in the Netherlands; Trumbull, Connecticut, and Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey in the United States; Bangalore in India (see also Hindustan Unilever Limited); and Shanghai in China.

The US division continued to carry the Lever Brothers name until the 1990s, when it adopted the parent company's moniker. The American unit now has headquarters in New Jersey, and no longer maintains a presence at Lever House, the iconic skyscraper on Park Avenue in New York City.

The company is said to promote sustainability and started a sustainable agriculture programme in 1998. In May 2007 it became the first tea company to commit to sourcing all its tea in a sustainable manner, employing the Rainforest Alliance, an international environmental NGO, to certify its tea estates in East Africa, as well as third-party suppliers in Africa and other parts of the world. It declared its aim to have all Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe certified by 2010, followed by all Lipton tea bags globally by 2015.

Covalence, an ethical reputation ranking agency, placed Unilever at the top of its ranking based on positive versus negative news coverage for 2007.

In 2008 Unilever was honoured at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for "Outstanding Achievement in Advanced Media Technology for Creation and Distribution of Interactive Commercial Advertising Delivered Through Digital Set Top Boxes" for its program Axe: Boost Your ESP.


Unilever owns more than 400 brands as a result of acquisitions, however, the company focuses on what are called the "billion-dollar brands", 13 brands which each achieve annual sales in excess of €1 billion. Unilever's top 25 brands account for more than 70% of sales. The brands fall almost entirely into two categories: Food and Beverages, and Home and Personal Care.



Unilever is the world's biggest ice cream manufacturer, with an annual turnover of €5 billion. Except for Popsicle, Klondike, Ocean Spray ice cream, Slim Fast ice cream, Breyers, Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's, all of its ice cream business is done under the "Heartbrand" brand umbrella, so called because of its heart-shaped logo. Unilever currently operates eleven ice cream factories in Europe; the biggest include factories at Heppenheim in Germany, Caivano in Italy, St. Dizier in France, Gloucester in the United Kingdom and Santa Iria da Azóia in Portugal.

The Heartbrand was launched in 1999 (and slightly modified in 2002) as an effort to increase international brand awareness and promote cross-border synergies in manufacturing and marketing ("centralisation"). It is present in more than 40 countries. Although the logo is common worldwide, each country retained the local brand so as to keep the familiarity built over the years, one notable exception being Hungary where the previous Eskimo brand was replaced with Algida in 2003.

In 2005, Glidat Strauss received special permission from Unilever to export their brand of ice cream to the United States because of the strict kosher certification the products in Israel have. Under terms of the agreement, Strauss ice cream and krembo may be sold only in kosher supermarkets and import shops. It is distributed in North America by Dairy Delight, a subsidiary of Norman's Dairy.

Prior to the heart logo, each country could choose its own logo, although the most common one consisted of a blue circle with the local brand's name over a background of red and white stripes; second most common old logo, used by Wall's in the UK and other countries, was a yellow logo with Wall's in blue text.

Unilever generally manufactures the same ice-cream with the same names, with rare occasions of regional availability, under different brands. Some of these ice-creams include Carte D'Or, Cornetto, Magnum, Solero and Viennetta.


A freezer in Queens, NY filled with Strauss ice cream from Israel with the Heartbrand

Unilever has produced many advertising campaigns, including:

  • Lynx/Axe click advert with Nick Lachey
  • PG Tips Monkey and Al
  • Knorr Chicken Tonight, 'I feel like chicken tonight'
  • Flora London Marathon
  • Knorr global brand
  • Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, including Evolution
  • Calve Pindakaas (peanut butter) in the Netherlands
  • Comfort Pure recommended by mothercare
  • Clear Anti-Dandruff shampoo and conditioner with the entertainer Rain
  • Clear Anti-Dandruff shampoo and conditioner with the entertainer Nicole Scherzinger
  • Clear Soft and Shiny shampoo and conditioner with the actress Sandra Dewi

Corporate governance

Unilever's highest executive body is called the Unilever Executive which is led by the Group Chief Executive ( Paul Polman). It is responsible for delivering profit and growth across the company.

Members of the Unilever Executive include:

  • Paul Polman (Group Chief Executive)
  • Vindi Banga (President Categories)
  • Doug Baillie (President Western Europe)
  • Harish Manwani (President Asia,Africa, Central & Eastern Europe)
  • Jean-Marc Huet (Chief Financial Officer)
  • Sandy Ogg (Chief HR Officer)
  • Michael B. Polk (President Americas)

Executive and non-executive directors at Unilever are:

  • Michael Treschow
  • Professor Geneviève Berger
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, QC
  • Wim Dik
  • Charles E. Golden
  • Kees J. Storm
  • Jeroen van der Veer
  • Byron E. Grote
  • Hixonia Nyasulu
  • N. R. Narayana Murthy
  • Lord Simon of Highbury CBE


Unilever has attracted a variety of criticisms from political, environmental and human rights activists. For example, it has been criticised by Greenpeace for causing deforestation, for testing products on animals by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and for making use of child labour, among others.


Unilever was targeted in 2008 by Greenpeace UK, which criticised the company for buying palm oil from suppliers that are damaging Indonesia's rainforests. Unilever, as a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, responded by publicizing its plan to obtain its palm oil from sources that are certified as sustainable.

In Côte d'Ivoire, one of Unilever's palm oil suppliers was accused of clearing forest for plantations, an activity that threatens a primate species, Miss Waldron's Red Colobus. Unilever intervened to halt the clearances pending the results of an environmental assessment.

Involvement in race issues

According to The Daily Telegraph, Hindustan Unilever, an Indian company that is majority owned by Unilever, was forced to withdraw television advertisements for its women's skin-lightening cream, Fair and Lovely. Advertisements depicted depressed, dark-skinned women, who had been ignored by employers and men, suddenly finding new boyfriends and glamorous careers after the cream had lightened their skin.

According to the Austrian Newspaper Der Standard and the Austrian Broadcasting Company, the Austrian branch of Unilever (Eskimo) is producing and marketing an ice-cream under the name Mohr im Hemd. "Mohr" (moor), as a colonial German word for African or black people, has a heavily colonialist and racist connotation. "Mohr im Hemd" (moor in the shirt) is a traditional Austrian chocolate speciality which refers to naked, "wild" Africans. Unilever refutes any racist intentions and claims that it has tested the name in broad market studies in Austria without any critical feedback.

Dumping of mercury at Kodaikanal

Unilever was accused by Greenpeace of double standards and negligence for allowing its Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Lever, to dump several tonnes of highly toxic mercury waste in the tourist resort of Kodaikanal and the surrounding protected nature reserve of Pambar Shola, in Tamil Nadu, Southern India.

Greenpeace activists and concerned residents cordoned off a contaminated dump site in the centre of Kodaikanal to protect people from the mercury wastes that had been discarded in open or torn sacks by Hindustan Lever which manufactures mercury thermometers for export, mainly to the United States. According to Hindustan Lever, from there, the thermometers are sold to Germany, UK, Spain, USA, Australia and Canada. The factory, set up in 1977, imported from the United States, after the US factory was shut down for ‘unknown reasons’.


The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood criticized Unilever for the 2007 Axe marketing campaign, which they considered sexist. Unilever's response is that the Axe campaign is intended as a spoof and "not meant to be taken literally". Critics noted that, to the contrary, Unilever had launched the contradicting Dove "Real Beauty" marketing campaign, which encouraged women to reject the underfed and hyper-sexualized images of modern advertising around the same time, contradicting previous claims of sexism.

Trade unions

Some trade unions representing Unilever employees in Pakistan have complained about the company's activities, including outsourcing and tens of thousands of job losses in recent years. In one example from July 2007, Unilever Pakistan called in police and paramilitary after union protests at allowances and suspensions resulted in union members holding company executives hostage for 16 hours.

Marmite and the British National Party

On the 22nd Arpil 2010, Unilever was forced to issue a statement distancing itself from the far-right British National Party, after a jar of Marmite was featured on a BNP election propaganda film.

A statement said: "It has been brought to our attention that the British National Party has included a Marmite jar in a political broadcast shown currently online. We want to make it absolutely clear that Marmite did not give the BNP permission to use a pack shot of our product in their broadcast. Neither Marmite nor any other Unilever brand are aligned to any political party. We are currently initiating injunction proceedings against the BNP to remove the Marmite jar from the online broadcast and prevent them from using it in future."

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