Speech by Paul Polman
Prince’s Prize January 28th 2019
Translated from the French transcript
“Philanthropy must also help to advance gender equality – this is essential. My hope is that, some day, you will choose a woman. But, Your Serene Highness, I should like to thank you and Jean-Guillaume for the honour you have shown me, an honour which I shall certainly share with everyone we serve. I think it is a good example being here, in Monaco. For it is important to remember that we are part of the 2% of the population who are educated, who can choose their direction in life, who are not hungry. If we belong to this 2% of the population, then it is our duty to serve the other 98%. This is what you do through your Foundation and through all the other worthy initiatives. And so please let me say what a source of admiration you are to me. And for that, I thank you.
We are at a crossroads between public policy and philanthropy by Unilever, with £80m dedicated every year it was important to put 5% of the company into a trust, a different trust fund to continue the tradition of the Rockefeller Foundation as it is important to me to develop and ramp up the pace with which we achieve these sustainable development goals we have shaped – like the Acumen Fund in particular. We have launched a Philanthropy University, with 2,000 students, to drive philanthropy forward. If you are interested in this idea, there are people on the ground I can recommend to you. The main aim is simply to build capacity, train training leaders so to speak, to move forward. What interests me the most is what my wife and I are doing. We have a personal trust set up across five countries in East Africa. We are committed to ensuring that all children with visual impairments can access education. That, right there, is one of the most important things if these sustainable development goals are to become a reality – in a challenging environment because education is already difficult for children who are not visually impaired, so for those who are – it’s even worse. Sometimes it’s hard, impossible even, to achieve this alone. We are looking to extend this model, and particularly among the B Corps, we have Ben & Jerry’s who help us out. We use this brand because it’s primarily an advocacy brand. Yes, we are polarising, but this is what enables growth. We wanted to launch a slogan: “Save our world”. With Tesla in particular. There’s a lot of publicity. “Be careful: if it’s melted, it’s ruined”, so watch out. That was really effective. We introduced a peach and mint brand. It was an ice cream and we’ve also got a flavour called I’m-peach-mint, but it’s not proving very popular. Presidential impeachment doesn’t work for an ice cream flavour. It’s all a question of public policy and brands have a key role to play. So I commend all of your efforts. At the end of the day, we can only change the world if we change the financial world – whether we like it or not, whether we agree or not. The aim is to set ourselves goals. For we can only assess what can be measured and evaluated. More clarity is necessary in that respect. I take my hat off to you for all that you are doing.
I would like to talk about the development agenda. For me, and I would also like to say this here, I’ve seen everything you’ve done – I don’t want to be pretentious, but I think we are spending money unwisely in the majority of cases. Great lengths are being taken to water down the efforts that we could keep up by working together. More about that later. If we look at the last few years, we ought to be proud. I’m not going to tell you a gloomy story. There are billions of people that we have been able to lift out of poverty. What we didn’t think about – we didn’t think about the effects of excessive consumption. This changes our perception of course, and it’s a fact that we are leaving too many people behind. There’s also too much governmental debt. It’s important not to marginalise too many people otherwise these marginalised people are then going to revolt – and we can see this playing out. We didn’t want to, but we needed to see it. We also need to think about access to electricity, to health for mothers, to water, etc. So there are lots of areas that are progressing at cruising speed, which is what we wanted, and that’s encouraging. But if we take a step back and look at the world in its entirety, we’re behind schedule. The speed at which things are happening is half the speed we want to be reaching. There are lots of indicators where we are lagging behind. Humanity is such that we could end poverty, completely overcome the devastating effects of climate change. There’s a sense of urgency that’s not well understood. There’s a polarised political environment that’s difficult to challenge. If we had to concentrate on two things, it would be to concentrate on climate change and poverty – disparities. So it’s important to tackle climate change. You have also seen the IPCC’s report which mentioned 3.5%, the global cost of climate change is more than five trillion dollars. Every day we get a reminder. Modern nature doesn’t negotiate. This is also evident in the WWF’s report. Your Serene Highness, you are actively involved alongside WWF on this issue. There are species being wiped out, that are vanishing at an alarming rate. In Canada, it has been said that Man is the most incredible species. In fact, they worship the gods while destroying invisible nature. And yet, the invisible nature they are destroying is in fact this God whom they worship. So I am delighted that people are realising that there is a link between the oceans, biodiversity and climate change. We are going to have to work hard to keep global warming at 1.5°. Governments have also made pledges, but these will have to be renegotiated in 2020 with the G7. There’s this focus on the climate, the oceans, biodiversity, and there’s also the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit.
The second point is poverty, unequal incomes. Over the past two decades, we have seen a steady rise in GDP, but the number of poor people is also increasing. And 8 billion people have seen their incomes fall by 20%. This is the bottom of the pyramid which survives on 5.50 dollars a day, whereas millionaires have seen their incomes swell by 12%. Their combined income totals 9.9 quadrillion. With this money alone, we could provide for the 240 million children not yet enrolled in education. We could change the face of health and education in our world, as these are key factors to attaining other goals. The money is there. We have enough money worldwide and the money is going to people who don’t need it, so if we could channel it in the right direction, we would have umpteen possibilities for working on the sustainable development goals. I have had the privilege of working on the SDGs with a panel of 27 advocates. Of course, the work was more significant that I thought and I remember that, at the first meeting in New York, everyone was gathered round the table and, all of a sudden I saw everyone look at me and the conclusion was this: it’s because of the private sector that we’re in this mess. It was quite straightforward, and I thought Houston, where am I? What have I got myself into? But we have 17 goals with 69 targets, and the idea to leave no one behind. First of all, ending poverty fairly and sustainably. Drawing up plans for the planet, the population, peace and prosperity for all. So with no global government working as it should, we have a moral framework that has been signed by 109 countries and they have a duty towards us. Everything that we are doing as a business or in our sectors, we need to tie it in with the sustainable development goals. This is a framework, as well as a very attractive business plan as, sometimes, we are a little too stuck in our ways. The Theory of Moral Sentiments was written 70 years ago. Without morality there can be no domestic wealth, and it seems problematic to me that we built the Statue of Liberty, but that we do not have a statue of responsibility. We have forgotten to make this link. And the key to progressing towards the sustainable development goals is to remind ourselves why we are on this planet, what our responsibilities are towards citizens. We are all in the same boat. We are citizens of Planet Earth before fighting over differences. We live in a world where technology is increasingly connecting us, and yet we are all far away from each other. 52 billion likes are sent on social media and yet some people commit suicide because of these likes – and some of us only have two or three friends. Sometimes, people go out to eat and they don’t talk to each other, they’re on their phones. A sense of community needs to make a moral comeback within our societies.
Urbanisation has passed the 50% mark. The population is set to rise, up to 10 billion, and soon, 75% of the population will be living in cities, which means we are going to have to double our cities, to the point that, every eight weeks, somewhere in the world another New York is built. But we will have to think about sustainable development. This will be key to knowing if we want to survive or not. So this is about thinking about how we can develop the world, how we can develop humanity within this urbanised world, because 90% of businesses will be in cities which will be increasingly cut off from nature. There are lots of children who don’t know the difference between a cucumber and an eggplant, so what is to be done if we are to live in harmony? This isn’t a battle between Man and Nature. It’s a battle for human survival. Nature will carry on. She doesn’t need us, but we need Her and we have a tendency to forget this. So, the challenge of the SDG programme is to have two to three million dollars a year – i.e. 2% to 3% of the world population, but political pressure tends to end up reducing this budget. So 2 to 3 sextillion, we need to be approaching development differently. We need to unlock the billions to unlock sextillions. How can we harness the World Bank and regional development banks to ensure that political processes are less risky and private financing comes into the equation? There are also individuals. For me, this is also an opportunity to transfer wealth between the baby-boomers and the millennials. The changes have registered much more clearly with these millennials than with us. So there is 70 billion coming from the richest sections of society. What can we do to ensure that this money acts as a catalyst on the private sector? Otherwise, we will merely be talking amongst ourselves and GDP or wages won’t make any difference. We need to tell people that part of the budget must, of course, go towards people in hardship, but we also need to remove the risks. A carbon tax was established which has provided two million. Lots of ministerial departments are in favour of such a measure, but the risks need to be removed. We could have funds that could help us to protect the Amazon for example, employ people. We need to create an ecosystem that works. So, your job is to act as a catalyst, to leverage your fortunes to unlock these sextillions.
Now in terms of the development programme, for everyone with some common sense, this programme is highly worthwhile. Over the last ten years, Unilever has simply worked on development, and we have reaped significant results over the decade. These figures are only going to get better as the cost of doing nothing is much higher than the cost of doing something. So this is about common sense. More will be achieved. We are getting to a point, for all these goals, where we are paying a price which is higher than to put the goals in place, and this is quite strange, but it has gone unnoticed. The two to three sextillion dollars for climate change – climate change is costing us more. In India, we have the problem of a lack of nutritional value. These are percentages that detract from the GDP. All of the dollars invested in nutrition have a return of $60. It’s a strange world where so many people are still going hungry, but perhaps we should dare to reconsider how 40% of our food is used. We simply need to use a tenth of what we waste to ensure people have enough to eat.
Goal 16 promotes peace and justice. Across the world today, we spend 10 to 12% on preventing conflict and war. And we are unwilling to set up other measures that could allow us to spend less. We consider ourselves to be the most intelligent species on Earth, but I don’t believe this to be the case. What doesn’t make sense is that we are continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Einstein defined this as insanity. We have kept trying the same thing. If we do not find a different way of working, we will not move forward, and what we need to be doing differently is make sure we don’t get caught up in a political or business system which only takes a short-term perspective. This means that we are only addressing the symptoms, but not the cause. The “yellow vest” protesters took to the streets and the Government offered them several million euros, but this only dealt with the symptoms. If you think short-term, it won’t work. There needs to be talk of the underlying causes and costs.
There are four things. We need to decarbonise the global economy. We need to transition towards a circular economy. In 2025 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean, when billions of people rely on the sea for their livelihoods. So we need to progress towards a circular economy. Europe has taken the lead in enacting legislation in this respect. Next, the financial markets need to think long-term. Because we have let the banks manage us and society serves the financial sector, when it’s the financial sector that should be serving the economy. Governments are in a bind and are out of ideas. The fourth point is to make our economic model more inclusive. We are all here because we want to change that. So all of these systems would be easy to roll out if we had governments that worked, but because populism is gaining ground, this is perhaps unlikely to happen in the next ten to fifteen years. All of us, the private sector included, need to be removing the political risks. So it seems to me that a collective partnership is necessary for working differently, between citizens, governments and private sector leaders. This is what happened in Paris. There wouldn’t have been any agreement in Paris if we had not had these people involved in governments who were committed to reducing the political risks. This is one of the reasons why CEO positions are no longer held for ten years, but four-and-a-half years instead. The business model needs to move away from 2% social responsibility. That’s better than nothing of course, but every business must be a socially responsible business. This would mark a fundamental shift, and citizens around the world believe that businesses should be adhering to the highest standards. The scandals you read about in the Financial Times at regular intervals show us that 20% to 30% of businesses are corrupt. At least the Internet has given us a form of transparency. Lots of businesses still believe they can change their brand image or outsource their work, but this isn’t working. Even in the agri-food industry, we are responsible for deforestation. We are part of the reason why some people go to bed at night still feeling hungry. If we do not assume these responsibilities, we will soon be without a job. We need to understand that the role of businesses has to change. If we do that, we will get results. At Unilever, we wanted to work on sustainable development by using less plastic for example, less carbon. We have switched to green energy sources which cost very little. My energy sources are almost free now, and this is highly commendable for a business.
The second aim was to reach more people. So we had a target of reaching one billion people and improving their health. So far we have reached 650 million. Simply through hand-washing for example, it is possible to reduce pneumonia or diarrhoea – just by doing things as simple as that. So there was a coalition we set up to implement the changes, which is a lot more effective than running a foundation and saying: “We’re going to turn our attention to this or that school.” It’s the systems that need to change. People should be brought together rather than separated. Then, there’s the question of brand image. All brands need to have a purpose. We have founded the WTO, the World Toilet Organization, in Geneva; it’s really near me and I’m thrilled as I believe this is how people should be managed. Again, this is a coalition of philanthropists, civil society groups, governments and a business community. The impact is significant. Brands like Vaseline, which are working with refugees. This is an amazing product for fighting, for working on self-esteem. This is another example of philanthropy in action. It’s an area where we could address the image women have of themselves. So brands have a more important purpose and can grow on that basis. As brands’ images become more responsible, so people will pay them more attention. We have two million people applying every year because they’re interested. They want to work with us because they believe we have a purpose. So people are coming to us. Partnerships, projects because this is about building a deeper level of trust for working differently. So philanthropy, and public policy. Some years ago, I worked with Rwanda. Africa’s youth will soon be its largest age group, and yet they are forced to import food. So many people are striving for a better life, but we want to help them without worrying about the costs because it’s politically incorrect and because this is the type of world we work in. Now, we have created a tea plantation, and our goal is to create local jobs. Tea isn’t just a good product, it is also an opportunity for creating jobs. So there are now small communities of farmers able to support themselves, but the venture would fail if I didn’t teach them how to manage on their own. If I was looking to invest money, I’m not sure the strategy would be long-term as the CEO would tell me: “It’s not profitable.” So we set up Ian Wood [1:19:35] which empowers these farmer communities. We are forging ties between the organisations and populations. We have therefore set up this tea plantation and the locals own it. So there’s a supply chain that enables people to support themselves, which enables children to go to school, which means that there’s no child labour. So when you set up alliances, and public policies change so that this becomes the norm, because it’s the best way of ensuring a community works … This is a win-win situation. So these are very important shifts and developments. People need to form part of these systems. This is why you can see these letters from Larry Fink… But care must be taken over ensuring the best possible standards. I think several points are necessary. You don’t need more than 20 organisations or 20% of a market for things to change – if the 20 biggest plastic producers, a big coalition has been announced at Davos this week, and the markets are going to act. So it’s pointless getting frustrated because things, people, behave poorly. We need to try and change that. There’s Malaysia, the World Bank and users of palm oil. You put these 20 people together and you try to change the world. I think the world is ready for that.
Now I’d like to talk to the B Team. The Mary Robinsons, the Tutus, with Desmond Tutu. This is what we call being behind the scenes, when things don’t happen in the way we want for humanity; there’s so much conflict. They can talk with these Heads of State and drive forward change. We told ourselves: we need to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into changing communities. All behaviours change – even sceptics and cynics. This is a real challenge. Only for the media to then launch a full-on attack at you. This is why it’s important to demonstrate a strong moral compass. Always keep the right course in mind. Think of all these countries that still have the death penalty for homosexuals. It beggars belief. When Trump says it’s a violation, that fundamental rights are violated in Charlottesville, humanity is at stake. At that point, we also speak out. When we advocate for a reduction in the rising temperatures, regarding climate change, this is another example where we speak out, we try to provide protection, and this is when we can see other people joining us, supporting us to create a synergy within communities.
I would like to say that, at the end of the day, we don’t need more doctoral students. We don’t need to be sending people to Mars. We already have all the answers. We know how to protect the forests, how to provide food, how to protect the homeless. We have built enough schools to provide everyone with an education. We know how to feed everyone, especially when we have 30 to 40% food waste. What we need is commitment, leadership. So yes, we need more trees, but above all we need more leaders who are purpose-driven, who work over the long-term and in partnership with others. This is what we are trying to achieve particularly for SDG 17. Partnerships for the goals. But it is important to understand what type of partnership we are talking about for the universal good: putting the interests of others before our own. The general interest first. This is an intergenerational partnership, a moral partnership. So the aim is to invest both in leaders and trees. The Dalai Lama put it this way: “If you seek enlightenment for yourself just to enhance yourself, you missed the purpose. If you seek enlightenment for yourself by helping others, you are with purpose,” and I should like to thank all of you for this being the case – you are all with purpose; thank you.”