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Unilever manufactures some of the world's most recognized brands ranging from foods (including tea, spreads and ice cream) to shampoo and washing powder. Unilever sells home and personal care and foods products in 150 countries worldwide, and employs 290,000 people, over 40,000 being in sub-Saharan Africa. A high profile is placed on HIV/AIDS programs for employees and their dependants, and in working with other stakeholders to promote education in the wider community.

HIV/AIDS Profile

Like other Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS member companies, Unilever has established an extensive awareness and prevention program that includes:

  • Information and awareness materials, talks, videos and theatre shows for employees
  • The establishment of volunteer peer educators
  • Management of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In most African countries where the company operates it is either the major provider of health care to its employees and their immediate families, or works very closely with third party suppliers
  • Provision of free or low cost condoms
  • Non-discriminatory policy for HIV positive employees

A key component of the Unilever program is the emphasis it has placed on the leadership and commitment of its senior regional and national management in ensuring the successful implementation of its HIV/AIDS program. Each Chief Executive Officer of its African companies is expected to establish a management team to be responsible for local HIV/AIDS programs. To support these teams, a resources manual "Business Response to HIV/AIDS" has been produced and disseminated. It provides general guidance on how a program should be established, but it places equal weight on the importance of responding to local needs and playing to local strengths in determining precisely how the program should be implemented. The pack contains sections on:

  • HIV transmission, progression to AIDS and its socio-economic determinants
  • Elements of a successful employee program
  • Policy development and legal issues
  • Human Resource issues
  • Prevention programs
  • Wellness management
  • Monitoring and evaluation

Within each section the Company details the roles that should be played locally and the steps to successful implementation. For example, the pack gives guidance on the principles for HIV/AIDS and STI policy and program development. Having explained the concerns and responsibilities of stakeholders from employees to managers through supervisors and trade union representatives, the pack asserts:

"These principles are important because they have been shown to have a significant impact on whether or not an HIV/AIDS and STI program is effective. HIV/AIDS and STI issues must be integrated into everyday activities of the organization. Induction programs for staff should include a module on HIV/AIDS and STIs to raise awareness. Social events (for example, open days) organized by the workplace could include an aspect of HIV/AIDS (for example, a stand that promotes using condoms).

"The management of the organization should demonstrate a clear commitment to the HIV/AIDS and STI strategy. It is very important for workers to see this commitment in concrete form through non-discrimination and support for people with HIV/AIDS and Sties (a policy in a manager's drawer is not a concrete commitment). Concrete commitment will go far in developing mutual trust between employers and employees and facilitating an atmosphere where people are willing to undergo voluntary HIV testing and possibly disclose their HIV status.

"Transparency is necessary. For example, policy documents should be available and the documents should be written in a way that is accessible to employees."

Motivation for action
Unilever's medical staff observed that while many of its companies had existing HIV/AIDS activities at the time the manual was published in 1999, the manual has allowed them to revisit the scope of their programs and identify new opportunities for action.

Monitoring and Evaluation
With the resources manual, Unilever instituted a detailed checklist to enable managers to report on the progress and success of their local HIV/AIDS programs. The checklist includes; electing an HIV/AIDS committee, performing a needs analysis, drafting, consultation, adoption and review of HIV employment policies, program implementation and monitoring and evaluation.

Results and Lessons learned
Unilever recognizes that company HIV/AIDS programs must be firmly on the Board agenda, with Board level responsibility for delivery. The manual provides a sound basis on which to establish increasingly comprehensive programs, with the local management team having the ultimate responsibility for effective implementation.

Unilever, Ivory Coast
The company has implemented strategic policies and measures against HIV/AIDS under the guidance of its AIDS committee; to support this work a retrospective study has been undertaken into the social and economic impacts of HIV on 1404 employees in Abidjan. Employees are now offered prophylaxis treatment against OIs, and ARVs. A therapeutic solidarity fund has been created.

» Read about Unilever Tea Tanzania's Treatment and Care Programs