Influence / Lobbying
Unilever’s roots go back to the latter half of the nineteenth century when the Industrial Age spawned working-class households with money to spend. Entrepreneurs began to package products under brand names and promote them to millions of the new customers. It was the dawn of modern advertising and merchandising. Lever was one of the firsts to discover the efficacy of mass advertising. Obviously, the budget for marketing and advertising has grown dramatically ever since. Advertising has always been a keystone of the business. (E.g. Unilever Bestfoods UK spends almost £100 million a year on advertising; The PG Tips chimps family advertising campaign was first screened at Christmas in 1956. The chimp adverts are now the longest - running TV advertising campaign of any brand, having featured in over 100 commercials) . In 2002, Unilever spent an unprecendented amount of money on advertising -struck the biggest deal in the UK’s advertising history- and expanded its outreach through TV, billboards and other channels even further. Unilever even developed its own house agency, Lintas (Lever International Advertising Service), which for many years ranked as one of the world’s largest advertising agencies (Lintas is no longer part of Unilever). You can imagine that Unilever exerts tremendous influence through its ads, penetrating the lives of hundreds of million consumers every day. Its latest strategy to clinch even more customers (especially women, the majority of Unilever’s customers) to its brands involves the exploration of e-commerce. Unilever targets politicians as well, in order to influence, direct and shape policies. The company takes an active stance, like all other multinationals with huge market power, aiming to create a more favorable business climate. The finalizing of the single European market (and its extension to Eastern Europe) stems high on Unilever’s agenda. Via lobby groups such as the TEP and the TABD (see below) Unilever and other big corporations (which are both the main driving forces behind the ‘European Unification Project’ as well as the main beneficiaries) try to speed up the unification process. Another main priority for Unilever is enhancement of its grip on the food chain. The promotion of GMOs and large-scale, export-oriented agriculture fit in this project (see below). Unilever participates in various industry lobby groups (such as the International Chamber of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry, EuropaBio), and undoubtedly has strong connections with many high ranking politicians. Political lobbying has become more professional and institutionalized during the 90s. It has been effectively subsumed into the much wider area of ‘reputation risk’. Corporate managers increasingly talk about ‘corporate reputation management’ –that is the big game everyone is now playing. It involves not only the targeting of politicians, but of other groups as well (employees, consumers, regulators, but most of all ethical or environmental pressure groups and NGOs). Companies generally provide little information about what is actually being said and decided within lobby groups, or claim it to be a-political. But they all know very well that their economic weight enables them to substantially influence policy decision-making processes, be it informally or formally, indirectly or directly. Economic and political power always come together. In the UK British Chamber of Commerce (BCC):
The BCC represents over 135,000 businesses, of all sizes in all sectors, from all over the UK, and describes itself as ‘one of the UK’s most powerful business affinity groups.’ About its influence, the BCC claims the following: ‘at all levels, local, regional and national, the British Chambers of Commerce provide a powerful voice for business. Our regular surveys, consultations and reports provide grassroots business opinion and have strong influence on governments ministers and officials, MPs, and other decision makers and opinion formers. This is reflected by our high profile in all kinds of media; each year we generate thousands of newspaper headlines, TV and radio interviews, often directly involving our member companies.’
BCC web site:www.britishchambers.org.uk"> www.britishchambers.org.uk Confederation of British Industry (CBI):
The CBI is the representative body for British business as a whole, and depicts itself as ‘the UK’s leading employers’ organisation; Britain’s business voice.’ Its membership of 250,000 firms employs about half the UK's workforce. The stated objectives of the CBI are "to uphold the market system and the profit motive that sustains it." It works both proactively, in forming and pushing policies, and reactively, in trying to deflect government proposals. In fact few policies or bills are written without extensive consultation with the CBI. It has daily contact with every level of government, with civil servants, with Ministers (including the PM), and once a bill reaches Westminster with MPs. The CBI's chief economist is a member of the independent panel of Six Wise Persons which advises the Chancellor on the Budget. In addition, the CBI offers its members ‘a voice on policy in Europe and internationally’.
CBI web site:www.cbi.org.uk"> www.cbi.org.uk Institute of Directors (IoD):
Membership of the IoD is individual – each member joins the IoD in his or her capacity as a director. One of the IoD’s objectives is ‘to make sure the views of business leaders are taken into account when the government is reviewing policy.’ With over 37,000 members the lowest common denominator effect ensures that it's far less influential than e.g. the BCC. In fact its views are more balanced than those of the CBI, as the IoD is an association of people each with an equal say - the majority come from small businesses (whereas the CBI is an association of businesses, some of which are larger and more influential). While the CBI is split on the issue of the single currency (euro), the IoD is opposed to it. IoD's biggest recent success has been the 1995 Budget cuts to both capital gains and inheritance tax.
IoD web site:www.iod.co.uk"> www.iod.co.uk In Europe European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT):
The ERT, founded in 1983, consists of some 45 ‘captains of industry’ from European multinational corporations with a ‘significant manufacturing and technological presence worldwide’. The ERT was formed with the express intention of reviving the EU unification process and shaping it to the preferences of European corporations. Unlike most other corporate lobby group in Brussels, the ERT has never bothered to lobby on detailed legislation. Instead, it concentrates on painting the big picture, and filling the EU’s agenda with sizeable new projects. The ERT’s access to European commissioners is unchallenged, and it also enjoys privileged connections with members of the European Parliament. In combination with long-standing linkages between member companies and their national governments, this access to the Brussels bureaucracy has been a critical element of the ERT’s lobbying successes. Companies currently represented in the ERT include Bayer, British Petroleum, DaimlerChrysler, Siemens, Shell, Renault, Ericsson, Fiat, Philips, Total and Unilever.
ERT website: www.ert.be European Association for Bioindustries (EuropaBio):
Virtually the entire European biotechnology industry is united in EuropaBio, which was created in 1996. EuropaBio is made up of some 600 companies, ranging from the largest bioindustry companies in Europe (including the European offices of US companies like Monsanto) to national biotech federations representing small and medium-sized enterprises. Member companies include all of the major European multinationals interested in biotechnology, e.g. Bayer, the Danone Group, Novartis, Monsanto Europe, Nestle, Novo Nordisk (fertilizer and pesticide company), Rhone-Poulenc, Solvay (an international chemical and pharmaceutical Group, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium) and Unilever. EuropaBio lobbies for a stronger role for biotechnology within the EU’s economy. Prof. Dr. Eduard Veltkamp, Senior Vice President Business Research Foods, Unilever, is one of EuropaBio’s Board Members. The main industrial lobbygroup aggressively promoting the commercialisation of GM food in Europe, and ever stricter patent protections for big corporations. Unilever is one of the most influential members of EuropaBio.
EuropaBio website: www.europabio.org On a regional/transatlantic level Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD):
The TABD arguably is one of the most far-reaching and influential international corporate-state alliances. Through the TABD, EU and US based corporations develop government policy recommendations, which the both governments in turn do their utmost to implement. In both Washington DC and Brussels, the TABD's access to the political process is remarkably institutionalised. The primary aim of the TABD is to build an integrated transatlantic marketplace and to develop and steer EU-US leadership in international trade negotiations such as within the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The TABD has identified many ‘trade barriers’ and brought them down, furthering transatlantic trade liberalisation, e.g. in the field of biotechnology. Monsanto and Unilever (see section 4) led the TABD’s biotech initiative, intending that products approved once should be accepted on both sides of the Atlantic.
TABD web site: www.tabd.org On a global level Bilderberg Group (an international elite forum)
The Bilderberg group is one of the oldest and most impenetrable international groupings in which major corporations play a significant agenda-setting role. The first Bilderberg gathering of politicians, military strategists, bankers, business leaders, academics, media, trade unionists and other opinion shapers took place in 1954 in the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, the Netherlands. This initial meeting was paid for by Unilever and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Today, approximately 120 global elite from North America and western Europe meet annually under the aegis of the Bilderberg Group. There is no fixed membership, but a number of large corporations have taken part over the years, including BP, Exxon, Ford, General Motors, IBM, Rio Tinto, Shell and Unilever. The Bilderberg agenda remains fixed upon current issues within the neoliberal, free market discourse. It is widely believed that the consensus reached within this forum is a basis for international policy developments . International Chamber of Commerce (ICC):
The ICC is the most effective global business organisation. On its website the highly ambitious/pretentious ICC introduces itself as being ‘the only representative body that speaks with authority on behalf of enterprises from all sectors in every part of the world’. The ICC is very clear about its tremendous decision-making power and declares: ‘Because its member companies and associations are themselves engaged in international business, ICC has unrivalled authority in making rules that govern the conduct of business across borders. Although these rules are voluntary, they are observed in countless thousands of transactions every day and have become part of the fabric of international trade’. ICC was founded in 1919. Today it groups thousands of member companies and associations from over 130 countries. The business organisation was modernized and relaunched in the mid-1990s. It has succeeded in reproducing the privileged position established by corporate lobby groups within the EU, the United States and Japan on a global level. The ICC has long been a triumphant lobbyist for global economic deregulation in fora such as the WTO, the G8 and the OECD. Within a year of the creation of the United Nations, ICC was granted consultative status at the highest level with the UN and its specialized agencies. The ICC is currently trying to increase its influence within the UN. The UN –undergoing an ideological transformation and eagerly embracing corporate groupings- entered into different partnerships with the ICC, resulting in several joint projects between business and various UN agencies (see below).
ICC website: www.iccwbo.org Unilever was one of the 450 multinationals taking part in the Geneva Business Dialogue, a meeting, taking place late September 1998, which marked the beginning of a growing (increasingly formalised) relationship between the UN and the ICC. The Geneva Business Dialogue was convened in order to ‘bring together the heads of international companies and the leaders of international organisations, so that business experience and expertise is channelled into the decision-making process for the global economy’ (according to ICC President Helmut Maucher, CEO Nestle). The dialogue between the ICC and the UN is an ongoing one, and includes regular meetings at the highest level. And while the ICC appears to have consolidated its hold on the UN’s activities in the economic realm, another global lobby coalition has long been an active partner in the UN’s work on environment and development. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which describes itself as ‘the pre-eminent business voice on sustainable development’ was the first corporate lobby group to force an institutionalised partnership with the UN . Unilever is one of the 150 multinationals taking part in the WBCSD. Practical cooperation between business and UN agencies like the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is also becoming routine.
WBDSD web site: www.wbcsd.ch The UN-private sector seized momentum on 26 July 2000 when the Global Compact -basically a set of principles on the environment, human rights and labour rights which multinationals agreed to act on- was launched. In the words of Unilever’s chairman FitzGerald: ‘The UN Global Compact is a symbol of leadership in a complex world, and of the potential for mutual understanding as we enter a new century. It provides a forward-looking forum in which the United Nations, companies and civil society organisations can come together in open and transparent dialogue. It offers the opportunity to discuss practical ways of working together to create a more prosperous and sustainable world.’ Others perceive the Global Compact in a totally different way, and consider the Global Compact as the ultimate greenwash opportunity for corporations (or call it bluewash, referring to the colour of the UN flag). Obviously, it is very beneficial for corporations to have their name associated with the UN and make use of the Compact logo.
Global Compact web site: www.unglobalcompact.org Wanting to take advantage of the UN’s receptive stance towards the private sector, lobby groups such as the International Bioindustry Forum (IBF) increasingly target the UN. The IBF, an umbrella group of national and regional associations such as EuropaBio, BIO, BIOTECanada, and the Japan Bioindustry Association, is concerned by the growing culture of regulation resulting from widespread public concern and the backlash against biotechnology, particularly GM food products. By bringing the world's most powerful and influential biotech companies, such as Unilever, Monsanto, Nestlé, Novartis, Pfizer, and DuPont together, the IBF lobbies to prevent the adoption of potentially industry unfriendly agreements in the UN, and to transform the UN and its agencies into promoters of biotechnology. Critics have recently hit the newly released Human Development Report (2001) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for blind biotech bias, stressing the report presents as facts the unsubstantiated promises of the genetic engineering (GE) industry while dismissing the environmental risks and ignoring the real challenges of agriculture in developing countries. Various civil society organisations strongly disagree with the main messages contained in the UNDP Human Development Report 2001. ‘The report taken in its entirety forms an unabashed pat on the back for the hi-tech bandwagon on which a minority of powerful elites are galloping to even greater riches, even more power. The verdict of the report is clear: the hi-tech world of information technology and biotechnology is the saviour of millions of poor, starving, desperate people in the "developing" countries’ [39-40]. Most of the information about the aforementioned lobby groups stems from their official web sites. Another important source is the following: Belen Balanya…[et al.] (2000) 'Europe Inc., regional&Global Restructuring and the Rise of Corporate Power', Pluto Press, London. Other sources used can be found in the reference list at the bottom of this document.
Unilever developed teaching materials for schoolchildren. Little books, titled ‘Dirty and Clean’, should educate children on hygiene. The message is ‘you can become dirty, as long as you will become clean again!’ Glorix (a Unilever brand) is the messenger, but (as Unilever reassures the worried reader who might think the book is meant as an advertisement!) use of the brand will be ‘reduced to a minimum.’ The books are being used in 35% of all primary schools in the Netherlands . Unilever supports the ‘UNEP/UNESCO Partnership on Youth and Life Styles: The Youth and Sustainable Consumption Research Project’
This UNEP/UNESCO program aims at developing and promoting the adoption of sustainable consumption patterns among youth . ‘For us, the most important thing is to make young and less-young consumers aware of the power of their choices on companies’ behaviour and of their right to ask corporations for more sustainable products’, says Isabella Marras, an associate program officer of UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics . The involvement of Unilever in this project is very dubious, if not appalling, since Unilever aggressively promotes consumerism, preferably amongst children (see section four). The Unilever Nelson Mandela Scholarships
From 1998 Unilever has provided scholarships (enabling South African students to undertake postgraduate study in the UK) to encourage leadership development among previously disadvantaged South Africans. Unilever has committed more than £3.1 million to this project and will award up to ten scholarships each year until 2008 . Unilever-Cambridge University Partnership for Science
One of the world's leading scientists, Professor Robert Glen, is to head a new research centre being created through a partnership between Unilever and the University of Cambridge in the UK. Professor Glen, the co-inventor of the anti-migraine drug Zomig (TM) has taken up the post of Unilever Professor of Molecular Science Informatics at Cambridge University's Department of Chemistry. Commenting on his appointment, Professor Glen said: ‘This is the most exciting opportunity of its kind anywhere in the world - a real chance to shape the way that scientific research will be conducted in the future.’ He added that the way ahead for leading universities lies in joint ventures with businesses. ‘Academia and business need to work together more closely to bring benefits for everyone around the world. Scientists are no longer divorced from business, nor should they be, and businesses need cutting-edge science to survive in our fast changing world’ . But there is another way, pointed out earlier, to look at this. Traditionally, universities have been reservoirs of independent thinking where tenured faculty had the academic freedom to analyse and interpret science and its implications for society without pressure from financially interested parties. But as funding ties between private industry and universities grow, the pool of independent research is shrinking. Karen Charman (source: Sierra, July/August 2001) examines the growing sense of intimidation felt by academic critics of the biotechnology industry in particular . Unilever sponsored Professor Dr. Rolf Birk (61) to hold a special chair in the field of international entrepreneurial law at the Law Faculty of Leiden University, The Netherlands. Birk will conduct research on entrepreneurial practices transcending borders. His research is supposed to amongst others, support the creation of a European Trading Partnership . Unilever has sponsored Nigerian academics to attend a symposium at the Unilever Cambridge Centre for Molecular Informatics. The two professors will be attending with other top academics from around the world in the field of informatics . Support for biotech research
Unilever played its part in the ‘Big Biotech Project’ of secretly flooding the food supply chain with GMOs. [Unilever was the first multinational company that started using genetically modified (GM) products. Their "Beanfeast" range (which is now being sold) contained GM soya. A tiny asterisk attached to the ingredient list was the only mark to warn consumers.] Stakeholders in biotechnology tried to slip genetically engineered food into the food supply, hoping people wouldn’t notice or object, until the point of no return. This strategy has been quite successful. Within just a few years GMOs found their way to supermarket shelves on a massive scale. No proper public debate and no assessment of public support for GMOs preceded the influx of GMOs in the food supply. There was no proper regulation in place to protect the health of humans and the environment, and to protect the interests of farmers and consumers. But even after public opposition to GMOs had grown, Unilever kept using GMOs in its food products. Now that the company cannot possibly ignore consumer resistance any longer, Unilever is taking a country to country position on GMOs. ‘We will continue to respond to demands in our different local markets to provide products that meet consumer’s expressed needs. This is why some of our companies have removed ingredients derived from GM plants from their products.’ Unilever is a major advocate of biotechnology (the company became the first major manufacturer to put its weight behind the controversial area of genetically modified foods), and claims to support ‘independent’ research in this field. It’s obviously very convenient for all big corporations dealing with food processing to purchase standardised, uniform, easy-to-process products with long shelf lives. The application of biotechnology in agriculture is a very helpful tool in meeting this end. In addition, Unilever hopes to boost its profits by producing so-called functional food products – foodstuffs with enhanced nutritional value and/or health benefits. A special team within Unilever is concentrating on a maximisation of the opportunities provided by functional food products, within all brands and categories. Niall FitzGerald, writing in Financial Times, stressed the necessity of ‘state guidance’ of public opinion if Britain wants to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities offered by biosciences. Basically, FitzGerald believes that science will eventually convince (ignorant) people of the benefits of biotechnology . In addition, regulation is considered a very important instrument to regain and boost public trust in GMOs. (Assuming that the lack of public support for GMOs in Europe is mainly caused by lack of proper regulation) FitzGerald has this future ambition of changing the character of foods and personal care products through genomics, in order to make these products suit the needs of every single individual. Speaking at the opening of a £10 million Biosciences Laboratory at Unilever’s research establishment in Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire, FitzGerald said: ‘Ultimately, the complete picture of the genome will allow us to offer people life-enhancing functional foods and personal care products through their entire lifetime.’ Isn’t this an exciting prospect! [49-50]. See also: Corporate Watch briefing on functional foods (GE briefings, at: www.corporatewatch.org.uk/publications/list.html).good for Monsanto's health.’), at: www.corporatewatch.org.uk/publications/list.html In the UK, Unilever Research is one of the corporate sponsors of ERBI --Networking in Cambridge and the East of England bio-community. ERBI Mission statement: ‘Our role is to enhance the growth and development of biotechnology in the East of England, thereby asserting the region as a world renowned centre of excellence’. Biotechnology is a key knowledge-based industry and the East of England (Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire) has the highest concentration of bio-business activity in Europe . On a global level, Unilever participates in the International BioIndustry Forum (IBF).
[See section three above] www.ifrn.bbsrc.ac.uk The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) depicts itself as a ‘sponsor department for the UK food and drink manufacturing and retailing industries’. DEFRA underscores the need to secure competitive improvement and works closely with individual sectors and key businesses to ‘foster and promote greater competitiveness and to remove obstacles to growth. The Food Chain Group is part of DEFRA. The pro-biotech Food Chain Group was set up in 1999 in order to help make the government’s science funding ‘relevant to our colleagues in food chain companies’. Web site: www.defra.gov.uk/foodrin/fdchain/fdchain.htm • In the aftermath of the foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001, the UK government launched (August 2001) the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food, ‘an independent policy commission looking at the future of the farming and food industries in England’. Its terms of reference are: ‘To advise the Government on how we can create a sustainable, competitive and diverse farming and food sector which contributes to a thriving and sustainable rural economy, advances environmental, economic, health and animal welfare goals, and is consistent with the Government’s aims for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, enlargement of the EU and increased trade liberalisation’. Members of the commission include Sir Peter Davis, Chairman Sainsbury's plc and Iain Ferguson,
Senior Vice-President Unilever plc . Homepage: www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/farming/index.htm • Unilever, like all other big multinationals with firm roots in Britain, seeks to profit from the new business opportunities opened up by the government’s Private Finance Initiative. The initiative, started by the Conservatives and developed by Labour, has become the means by which many, even most, of infrastructure projects in Britain are now built.
 www.unilever.co.uk/unileverintheuk/didyouknow.html (source: Unilever, date viewed: 20/9/01)
 Belen Balanya…[et al.] (2000) ‘Europe Inc., Regional & Global Restructuring and the Rise of Corporate Power’, Pluto Press, London, p. 145-146
 To find out why CorpWatch honoured the WBCSD with a Greenwash Award, visit: www.corpwatch.org/trac/greenwash/wbcsd.html
 www.greenpeace.org/pressreleases/geneng/2001jul10.html (source: Greenpeace, date viewed: 20/9/01)
 www.corpwatch.org/bulletin/2001/0049.html (source: CorpWatch, date viewed: 20/9/01)
 Unilever Jaaroverzicht 2000, en verkorte jaarrekening (Unilever publication, Dutch version)
 www.unepie.org/pc/sustain/youth/research-project.htm (source: UNDP/UNESCO, date viewed: 18/9/01)
 www.iht.com/articles/19498.html (‘When Youth Buys, the World Listens’, source: Herald Tribune, date viewed: 18/9/01)
 Unilever press release, 15.09.2001 (viewed on the official Unilever web site, date: 09/8/01)
 Unilever press release, 28.10.1999 (viewed on the official Unilever web site, date: 09/8/01)
 see: www.prwatch.org/cgi/spin.cgi/ (source: PR watch, date viewed: 09/8/01)
 Unilever press release, 28.03.2000 (viewed on the official Unilever web site, date: 09/8/01)
 Financial Times, 14 May 2000
 Unilever press release, 20.07.2000 (viewed on the official Unilever web site, date: 09/8/01)
 Unilever press release, 11.07.2000 (viewed on the official Unilever web site, date: 09/8/01)
 www.bioportfolio.com/erbi/ (source: ERBI, date viewed: 20/9/01)
 www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/farming/index/About.htm (source: DEFRA Policy Commission on Food & Farming, date viewed: 20/9/01)