Unilever CEO tells activists to ‘call us out’ amid plastic criticism

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Unilever’s CEO Alan Jope is calling on activists to pressure the company to be better on climate and social issues after reports criticised the FMCG giant’s plastics progress.

Alan Jope Unilever
Alan Jope, Unilever’s CEO promises to do better on plastic

Unilever’s CEO is asking for activists to “call us out” when it comes to climate change as it faces criticism around its plastic initiatives.

Speaking at the One Young World conference today (25 October), Jope said: “Push us, call us out when we don’t do a good enough job”.

Jope addressed a new report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that found less than 1% of the FMCG giant’s plastic packaging was from recycled materials.

He said: “We are in the news for not taking enough action on plastic through last year and it’s true and I feel bad about that, but boy are we going to move quickly in the next two years. You watch us and judge us by our actions not by our words.”

You watch us and judge us by our actions not by our words.

Alan Jope, Unilever

The report noted that Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever would have to accelerate their efforts around plastic if they are to keep voluntary pledges to reach 25% recycled content in their plastic packaging by 2025.

Earlier this month, Unilever committed to reducing virgin plastic in its business by 50% by 2025, as well as helping to collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells.

The commitment is part of the company’s belief that a circular economy is the key to ending climate change. Jope explained: “To [help solve climate change] we have to move from a linear ‘take, use, throwaway’ model to a fully circular model.”

He also noted he held the “controversial view” that plastic had many benefits and should not be eradicated from packaging.

He explained: “We have a controversial view, which is plastic is a wonderful material. It is safe, it reduces food waste, it has a much better carbon footprint compared to glass or aluminium.

“However, too much plastic ends up in our landscapes, in our rivers, in our oceans, on our streets. Unilever is committed to taking action to keep plastic in the economy and out of the environment.”

Coca-Cola: We need to reframe the way we talk about the plastic problem

This is opinion was shared by Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey yesterday at the conference. Quincey also called for a more nuanced view of plastic noting its lower carbon footprint compared to other packaging alternatives.

Jope, who has been in the role since January, was clear on the key social issues Unilever is looking to tackle. He said: “Climate change is real, inequality is unacceptable and plastic is a problem.”

He explained that although brands can make a huge difference, it is vital  stakeholders from outside business also push for a better world.

“These challenges of inequality and climate change are not things we are going to be able to tackle alone. We need business, government, civil society and citizens to come together to represent the change that we need.”

He concluded: “We are determined to prove once and for all that responsible business and sustainability is a path to better financial outcomes and that is our mission.”

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