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90 years of doing good – why companies with purpose last


In January 1930, our founding companies merged to become Unilever. And from the very beginning, our purpose-driven brands aimed to change lives for the better. We're celebrating 90 years of 'doing well by doing good' – and looking forward at the change we still want to see.

Unilever brand Lifebuoy come to the public’s aid during the Blitz in World War II.

Can business really change things for the better?

Do brands have the power to make a positive difference to people's lives?

We're convinced the answer to both questions is 'yes' – and as we celebrate our 90th birthday as Unilever, we believe the successes of our past will prove a vital foundation for creating a better world.

A brighter tomorrow, built on a better business

Today, in 2020, Unilever is driven by our ambition to be the world's most sustainable business.

In 190 countries around the world, our brands and operations support the big goals of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan: helping more than a billion people improve their health and well-being, halving the environmental impact of using our products, and enhancing the livelihoods of millions of people in our supply chain.

These goals are challenging, and we'll need a powerful sense of purpose to achieve them.

But purpose isn't new for us. It was there at our formation in 1930.

Feature image - William Hesketh Lever, co-founder, 1900
The truest and highest form of enlightened self-interest requires that we pay the fullest regard to the interest and welfare of those around us, whose wellbeing we must bind up with our own and with whom we must share our prosperity. William Hesketh Lever, co-founder, 1900

Founded with a social mission. Driven by purpose.

When British soap-maker Lever Brothers and Dutch company Margarine Unie merged their operations to become Unilever, both companies brought a strong sense of social mission.

Lever Brothers, which was celebrated for providing better housing, education and working conditions for employees, created Sunlight Soap with an explicit purpose: ‘to make cleanliness commonplace’.

Margarine Unie, as well as providing accessible healthcare for workers, created brands which added variety to the diets of workers who at that time relied on dry bread.

We believe it is that sense of purpose that has driven our success since 1930 – and that will continue to inspire us for the next 90 years.

Feature image - Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, 2019
Brands without a purpose will have no long-term future with Unilever. Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, 2019

Changing times. Constant ambition.

Making quality products affordable for working people. Supporting health, hygiene, and nutrition. Providing better conditions for employees. The ambitions which motivated our founding companies can still be seen in the way our brands are working to create positive change today.

Of course, times have changed since 1930. And there is still a huge amount of work we have to do as a business to ‘make sustainable living commonplace’.

But we think our founders would recognise and applaud the spirit behind our sustainability ambitions. And we're sure that they'd join us in celebrating the successes of our company and our brands.

They, like us, knew that companies with purpose last.

So to mark our birthday, we’re sharing some of our favourite stories from our nine decades of history.

Beginning with our people, who are at the heart of our success. Hear from some of them in our birthday film – including Elma Jones, who joined Unilever in 1934, Keerthana Kasi who joined in 1996, and Samantha Thian, who joined in 2018.

And here are just a few stories from some of our most famous brands that show that our founders were right: businesses that do good, do well.

Main banner image shows Unilever brand Lifebuoy come to the public’s aid during the Blitz in World War II. The free mobile emergency washing service visited bomb-struck areas of London.

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