As part of EQ Investors (EQ) commitment to engage across companies in the food value chain on nutritional value and accessibility, we have been working with ShareAction’s Healthy Markets coalition alongside other investors.
A focus in the last twelve months has been Unilever. While the company is considered a leader across other aspect of corporate responsibility, like its net-zero plan, or supply chain sourcing, its portfolio of food products wasn’t.
Unilever has always maintained that its products are healthy, using its own definitions of that term. However, the Access to Nutrition Initiative disputed that, with less than a third of Unilever’s portfolio meeting government-endorsed definitions.
We believe every food company needs to take responsibility for the negative social impact on obesity and malnourishment that their products are supporting.
Despite months of engagement by our ShareAction coalition – initially it didn’t yield the desired outcome. Members of the group then filed a shareholder proposal urging the company to disclose against government-endorsed health models and adopt ambitious targets to increase the share of healthy foods in its sales.
This week, Unilever has taken the decision to change its narrative. It announced a new benchmark for public reporting about the healthiness of the food it sells. It will now measure the sales of its products against major government-endorsed Nutrient Profile Models as well as its own internal metric.
Unilever’s commitment to use independent benchmarks going forward will provide far greater clarity to shareholders and consumers on its impact on public health. In response to that, the coalition has pulled the shareholder resolution as demands were met prior to ever putting it to a vote at the AGM.
We hope that this story will set a precedent for other food companies and put the under-engaged topic of nutrition on the table of more investor discussions. At EQ we are committed to engage across identified weaknesses in the companies we invest in, as no company is perfect, and sustainability has a moving goal-post.