Unilever CEO impels businesses to take stand on climate change, other political issues

Photo from Unilever

Unilever CEO Alan Jope has called on businesses to take on strong positions on global issues such as climate change and inequality.

“It’s extremely naive for any business of any scale to say they can’t get involved in political issues,” Jope said during the 2020 Responsible Business Summit organized by UK-based digital media company Tortoise.

Jope said Unilever’s guiding principles involve taking “very strong positions on issues” even if it means disappointing or upsetting a whole segment of society.

“We will definitely take strong views on political matters, and that implies, sometimes that you’re sitting on one or other side of the political spectrum. What we try to avoid doing is naming individual parties, although we’re not afraid to take that on.

“The credibility comes from continuity. The reason why it’s okay for managers to tackle racial justice, to tackle climate change, to tackle LGBTQI rights is because they’ve been doing it for 20 years. If they were just taking random pops or whatever was the kind of trendy issue, then it would be wholly lacking in character. And that’s when you get in trouble,” said the Unilever CEO.

The livestreamed summit brought together business leaders and policy experts to discuss environment, social, and corporate governance issues, ranging from supply chains and sustainable finance. 

During the summit, Mona Sutphen, former chief of staff under U.S. President Obama, emphasised putting a social  lens in investment decisions: “Is there a way we can do this more equitably?” 

On October 15, Tortoise also launched its updated Responsibility 100 Index. This ranking of the FTSE 100 indicates the level of commitment to measurable and time-bound targets, climate, justice, good business practices, equality, skills, poverty and wellbeing, and memberships to organisations. 

Top five in terms of commitment to climate action are as follows: Burberry, Unilever, RELX, BT Group, and Land Securities. 

Supermarket retail giant Tesco comes in at 17.

Other companies in the index are mostly from retail, finance, engineering, and services sectors.