Can Unilever’s Paul Polman Change the Way We Do Business?

Unilever, whose shareholders benefited from pre-tax profits of €7.2bn in 2015, is not most people’s idea of an NGO. Yet there is no denying Polman’s commitment to a new way of doing business, one that has seen him risk the wrath of some shareholders, and impose tough targets and restrictions on the company’s operations as he attempts to balance long-term profitability with a mantra of increasing sustainability. This mission is in tune with the times. Across the world, there is widespread disenchantment with business. The most recent annual trust barometer produced by Edelman, the public relations company, showed that large numbers of people do not even trust the companies they work for. Companies in turn accept that they need to win society’s support. “Corporate social responsibility” has long been part of business thinking and some, such as Nike, Coca-Cola and even Walmart, have moved on to talk about sustainability, namely how to reduce energy and water consumption and replenish what they use.

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