India is not going to be immune to movements such as BlackLivesMatter and StopAsianHate, and societal fault lines are not going to be restricted to a few countries like the United States, said COO Nitin Paranjpe.
“Do not assume that India is going to be immune to such movements. The axis of tension may be different but societal tension will come up in India. Demand for inclusion will rise and that will require leaders to anticipate and start thinking of what is required for companies to do,” said Paranjpe, addressing a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) HR conclave on Thursday.
“For a company like Unilever, there is a business logic of making sure that we are more representative of the society we are serving,” Paranjpe said. “Our ability to be able to sense what is happening with people and trends is dependent on that.”
In the middle of last year, HUL dropped the word ‘fair’ from one of its biggest brands Fair & Lovely, and also rebranded its Pond’s White Beauty fairness brand. In March this year, Unilever announced it was eliminating the word ‘normal’ from all beauty and personal care brand packaging and advertising in all markets, including India to avoid stereotyping.
Employment generation will be critical to India’s growth story, Paranjpe, who spent three decades at Unilever in various countries in leadership roles, said.
“Millions of people are entering the workforce every year and there is relentless pressure on jobs in India which will arise through automation and through the growing power of artificial intelligence – how do you balance that,” he asked at the CII meet. “The country needs high levels of growth but the model for growth cannot just be productivity-led; it will have to be employment-led growth. Balancing this will be a challenge and there is no easy answer.”Paranjpe was CEO of the Anglo-Dutch giant’s India unit Hindustan Unilever (HUL), the country’s biggest consumer goods company, from 2008 to 2013.
India contributes nearly 9% of Unilever’s global sales and is its second-largest market after the US. The US, India and China account for nearly 35% of Unilever’s turnover.
Paranjpe, who has been COO of Unilever since 2019, said the company’s ‘brands with purpose’ are growing two times faster than those that are yet to find purpose, adding that sustainability has become a competitive advantage and is maximising shareholder value.
“Investors have realised that companies which don’t do things to protect their future have no future,” he said. “Only about 5% of your share price is explained by today’s earnings; the rest of it is a function of future earnings. So if you don’t start investing in sustainability strategies, you don’t have a future.”
Unilever has been championing diversity on multiple fronts, including gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and disability amid increased scrutiny by shareholders and activists. Paranjpe said diversity drives innovation and growth but it works only when there is an inclusive culture.
“Unilever wants to be a beacon in this (diversity with inclusion). How do we build more inclusive policies that drive diversity is a big issue,” he said.
The company has committed 2 billion euros annually to ensure diversity in suppliers, and support to 5 million retail partners to improve livelihoods, in addition to committing to fair wages by 2030 for those who provide goods and services to the company.
He said young people want to work for organisations that have a purpose beyond making money, adding that despite the war of the talent, Unilever continues to be an employer of choice in 54 countries.