Unilever Southern Africa has agreed to partner with the Department of Small Business Development to increase investment in Small, Micro and Medium Enterprise development. This commitment was made by Unilever CEO, Luc-Olivier Marquet, during a meeting with Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni on Friday, 18 September. Present at this meeting was a board-level delegation from Unilever, a senior delegation from the Department of Small Business Development as well as representatives from the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (SEFA).

The meeting follows the publication of a racially offensive advert on the Clicks website by Unilever hair brand, TRESemmé. “We were shocked to discover that we had supplied images for the Clicks website that portrayed Black hair as inferior. This was racist and we apologise unreservedly. We immediately began an investigation to understand what happened. At the same time, we began reviewing all the marketing campaigns and images in our South Africa portfolio to make sure they match our commitment to celebrate all beauty and promote Diversity and Inclusion” said Marquet, who recognised the need for the acceleration of the diversity and inclusion agenda in corporate South Africa and the pivotal role that boosting black businesses will play in this agenda. Unilever has since also set up an Advisory Board with internal and external experts to review how Unilever hair care products in South Africa can offer consumers the solutions they want in positive and empowering terms. Working with the new Advisory Board, Unilever will develop programmes to deliver immediate support to Black hair stylists and small professional salons.

It was noted that although 95% of Unilever products sold in South Africa are manufactured within the country, the bulk of the input materials for such manufacturing are imports which significantly dilutes the benefits to South Africa in the Unilever supply value chain. Minister Ntshavheni urge a strong participation of Unilever in the localization programme of South Africa.  Unilever indicated that they had already identified inputs materials that could be manufactured locally and committed to work with the Department to build capability of SMMEs in particular black, women and youth-owned and those owned by persons with disability to participate meaningfully in this manufacturing. In addition to local manufacturing of input materials, these commitments include increased SMME access to Unilever’s third-party manufacturing; logistics platforms; and SMME-products route to market assistance.

Minister Ntshavheni pointed out the current R80 million Enterprise Development Fund of Unilever is not sufficient for SMME development but accepted that if commitments on value chain participation made by Unilever are fulfilled, it will improve this contribution. The Department undertook to also use its existing support mechanisms to accelerate the qualification of SMMEs to participate in the Unilever value chains, such mechanisms include the Manufacturing Support Scheme; and fast-tracked certification of products with relevant standards bodies. In addition, the Department will partner with Unilever’s programme to support black hair stylists and small professional salons through its programmes to support informal and micro personal care services and Minister accepted the offer by Unilever to partner on the Spaza and General Dealers Support programme to ensure the success of spaza shops as the next frontier for convenience shopping in townships and rural areas.

The Department of Small Business Development and Unilever Southern Africa have put in place a working team to oversee the implementation and agreed on a timeframe to review progress thereof.

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