Unilever and Oxfam: Understanding the Impacts of Business on Poverty (A) and

Abstract

In 2003, Unilever and Oxfam embarked on a groundbreaking “learning project” designed to better understand the impacts of business on poverty. Developing countries were seen as an essential component of Unilever’s corporate strategy, with developing and emerging markets forecast to account for 90% of the world’s population by 2010. Unilever had long been present in many of these markets and increasingly had come to see that its future growth would depend upon its contribution to addressing issues of social and economic development in developing countries, including poverty. Oxfam, one of the world’s most prominent nongovernmental organizations, was focused in its campaigning and other activities on the alleviation of poverty. Thus, despite the often adversarial relationship between corporations and NGOs, the two organizations shared a common interest and this formed the basis for their collaboration. The goal was to examine the role of business in poverty reduction and study, specifically, Unilever’s operations in Indonesia. The Unilever and Oxfam case describes how this collaboration came about and provides background on Unilever, Unilever Indonesia and Oxfam, including its recent campaigns against the pharmaceutical and coffee industries. It also examines the role of NGOs and outlines the challenge of poverty in developing countries, the Millennium Development Goals, and the UN Global Compact. The case shows the difficulties inherent in better understanding the role of MNCs in poverty alleviation as well as in formulating an effective collaboration between corporations and NGOs.

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