Unilever, the international conglomerate producing over 400 products, hasn’t always had a sterling environmental and social record. In 2007, Greenpeace targeted the corporation for the deforestation of Indonesian rainforests linked to its sources of palm oil. The UN Environmental Programme called palm oil plantations the leading cause of deforestation in Indonesia. Then, in 2011, Unilver partnered with Proctor and Gamble in a European washing powder price-fixing scheme. About the best thing you could say about Unilever was “at least they’re not Nestlé.”
But in recent years Unilever has been doing a lot to change public perception and at least appear to work toward sustainability. They were a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and in 2012 announced that its sustainable palm oil target would be reached three years ahead of schedule, as well as promising “100% palm oil from certified traceable sources by 2020.” But a report issued last week by the International Labor Rights Forum and Sawit Watch found ”flagrant disregard for human rights at some of the very plantations the RSPO certifies as ‘sustainable.’” These human rights violations included “labor trafficking, child labor, unprotected work with hazardous chemicals, and long-term abuse of temporary contracts.”
So here we are a week later, on Universal Children’s Day, and Unilver has a new campaign called “Project Sunlight,” which it describes in a press release as appealing to everyone, but particularly parents, “encouraging them to join what Unilever sees as a growing community of people who want to make the world a better place for children and future generations” and “a new initiative to motivate millions of people to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.”
At the center of Ogilvy London’s campaign is the video, directed by Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris, and scored with the worst Pixies cover you’ve ever heard, ”Why Bring A Child Into This World?.” which answers that question by stating that our grandchildren will live in a better place than we do. It’s a slick, well-produced 4:26 clip charged with sentimentality and promise, especially if you’re a new or expectant parent.
So what exactly is Project Sunlight? Gawker seems to have given up without much research. The Project Sunlight website certainly doesn’t make it easy to pinpoint what charities Unilever is directly involved with. But a little digging on our part uncovered that Unilever claims it “will be helping 2 million children through its ongoing partnerships, providing school meals through the World Food Programme; supporting Save the Children to provide clean, safe drinking water; and improved hygiene through UNICEF.” We’re not sure how they got the 2 million children figure, but those all seem like solid charities. Nestlé certainly wouldn’t be caught dead providing safe drinking water for free. Unilever also directs traffic from the Project Sunlight website to these and other charities.
Further digging finds Unilever making additional promises of moves towards sustainability. They’ve pledged to transition Hellmann’s to 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2020, and made a similar pledge that Lipton tea products will “come from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms by 2018.” They also offer little sustainability tips on the site, like easy ways to conserve water. The “Media Wall” section offers up social media posts made with the #BrightFuture hashtag. A lot of it is fluff, but there’s no denying that people will benefit from some of what Unilever is doing on the site. At the very least, it will help a few charities gain exposure and donations.
Whether the “Why Bring A Child Into This World?” video and “Project Sunlight” are real moves toward corporate responsibility and sustainability, or just a greenwashing image makeover for Unilever is hard to say. You’ll have to decide for yourself, although, given the recent RSPO human rights revelations, it’s hard not to be cynical about “Project Sunlight.” Credits after the jump.CREDITS
Title: “Why Bring A Child into This World?”
Agency: DAVID / OGILVY & MATHER
Client: Unilever Brand Global
Account lead: Jessica Davey
Head of production: Veronica Beach
Production House: Moxie Pictures
Director: Errol Morris
Producer: Julie Bilson Ahlberg
Director of Photography: Robert Chappel
Production Designer: Steve Hardie
Mumbai Production: Firecracker Films
Executive Producer: Meeta Khann
Final Cut Editorial
Editor: JD Smyth
Senior Assistant Editor: Peter O’Donovan
Assistant Editor: Leila Gaabi
Executive Producer NY: Lauren Bleiweiss
Executive Producer London: Michelle Corney
Producer: Beth Fitzpatrick
Colourist: Fergus McCall
Colour Assist: Lewis Crossfield
2D Artist: John Thornton
Producer: Luis Martin
Sound Designer: Jack Sedgwick
Producer: Rebecca Boswell
“Where is My Mind”
Written by Frank Black
Courtesy of Universal Music Publishing
Performed by Danny Schogger
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