In his keynote address at the ISA Global CEO Conference in Mumbai on 30 October, Paul Polman, Global CEO, Unilever, said, “In this world, people say capitalism works. If it does work, it needs to evolve.”
He added, “Any system where too many people feel they’re not participating will fail. If we don’t change business models we’ll become like dinosaurs and will fail to exist. A billion people go to bed hungry and still don’t know if they’ll wake up in the morning. Companies or individuals can’t talk themselves out of things they behaved themselves into; the behaviour has to get themselves out of it. The vision needed is to eradicate poverty once and for all. Unilever wants to achieve that by giving more than we take.”
Polman complemented the Tata group on that aspect and attributed the company’s success to it giving more to society.
He then explained what a sound GDP comprises: “An increase of GDP does not mean people move to bigger houses or cars or get to overeat. A sound GDP is one that provides the right to education for all and the right to eat for all, that provides overall happiness.”
Polman described how Unilever tries to give each brand a different mission by citing the example of Lifebuoy. Polman said, “2.6 billion people worldwide don’t have access to sanitation or clean drinking water. Lifebuoy is one of our fastest growing brands because it’s advertising is taking care of that. There’s one side of the world that’s concerned about the launch of the iPhone 5S, while the other is still concerned about sanitation. While billionaires are increasing, people are still earning less than 45 cents a day. While life expectancy is increasing, one in five children don’t survive beyond the age of five.”
He added, “The WWF rightfully said that the way we live these days, we need more than our planet Earth. We live like we have 1.5 planets to live on. If we live like the Americans, we’ll require four planets to live on.”
Trust in business is low
Polman explained why the trust is decreasing in businesses. He elaborated, “There was a story about Japanese banks lending money to gangsters. I don’t know how people could trust that bank. People are buying T-shirts with the ‘Made in Bangladesh’ tags with the knowledge that they’re forced to work for less than 11 cents an hour.”
On the transparency and trust aspects, Polman said, “One can’t build success without transparency. Marriage and businesses both need that to work.”
The New Asian Hemisphere
“The world is moving to the East and South. We were first following the USA Model, where they were putting systems in place and people were following it. Now, with the changing world, USA is moving back to its territory. So, the problem we’re facing isn’t that the USA aren’t running the world, but China and India are not yet ready to replace it, which is causing a vacuum. The world is facing global issues because we’re used to tackling only local issues. We need agreements in place to address these issues,” said Polman.
The consumer is in charge
Polman then spoke about the power of the consumer. He said, “The world has changed because of digitisation. In two decades from now, people will connect to even more devices. Nobody would have expected Facebook to be the third largest country in the world. With Twitter and YouTube around as well, if the consumers don’t like what they see, they’re able to express it. The youth in emerging markets are more than happy to do so and they’re an incredibly important force.”
“My point is simple, you can get an irresponsible company out of business in a matter of a few seconds now,” he surmised.