Unilever South Africa and the Department of Small Business Development have partnered to increase investment in small, medium-sized and microenterprise (SMME) development.
The partnership follows the publication of a racially offensive advert on the Clicks website by Unilever hair brand, TRESemmé. This resulted in protests by members of political party, the Economic Freedom Front, and forced Clicks stores across the country to close for several days.
“We were shocked to discover that we had supplied images for the Clicks website that portrayed black hair as inferior. This was racist and we apologise unreservedly,” Clicks CEO Luc-Olivier Marquet says.
Marquet notes that the company “immediately began an investigation to understand what happened”, while simultaneously reviewing all the marketing campaigns and images in the company’s South Africa portfolio to ensure they match the commitment to celebrate all beauty and promote diversity and inclusion.
He further adds that he “recognises the need for the acceleration of the diversity and inclusion agenda in corporate South Africa and the pivotal role that boosting black businesses will play in this agenda”.
Unilever has since also set up an advisory board with internal and external experts to review how Unilever haircare products in South Africa can offer consumers the solutions they want "in positive and empowering terms".
Working with the new advisory board, Unilever will develop programmes to deliver immediate support to black hair stylists and small professional salons.
However, the statement on September 23 notes that although 95% of Unilever products sold in South Africa are manufactured within the country, the bulk of the input materials for such manufacturing are imports which significantly dilutes the benefits to South Africa in the Unilever supply value chain.
It is for this reason that Small Business Development Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni urges strong participation by Unilever in the localisation programme of South Africa, though Unilever says the company has already identified input materials that could be manufactured locally.
It has committed to work with the department to build the capability of SMMEs, in particular black, women and youth-owned and those owned by persons with disability, to participate meaningfully in this manufacturing.
In addition to the local manufacture of input materials, these commitments include increased SMME access to Unilever’s third-party manufacturing, logistics platforms and SMME-products route-to-market assistance.