We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The lever wasn’t long enough

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world”, the great mathematician Archimedes is supposed to have said.

Maybe it was their company name that led Anglo-Dutch consumer packaged goods company Unilever to briefly decide that their real mission was not making shampoo, soap, washing power and assorted packaged food products but to take it upon themselves to move the world. The world moved all right, away from these irritating people who were trying to shove it around.

“Unilever to tone down social purpose after ‘virtue-signalling’ backlash”, reports the Telegraph.

Unilever will no longer seek to “force-fit” all of its brands with a social purpose, its new chief executive said, following a backlash over the company’s “virtue-signalling”.

Hein Schumacher, who took over from Alan Jope in July, said for some of its brands, giving them a social or environmental purpose “simply won’t be relevant or it will be an unwelcome distraction”.

He added: “I believe that a social and environmental purpose is not something that we should force-fit on every brand.”

It marks a change in position from Mr Jope, who placed social purpose at the centre of his strategy for Unilever. In 2019, he pledged to sell off brands that “are not able to stand for something more important than just making your hair shiny, your skin soft, your clothes whiter or your food tastier”.

Can anyone tell me if this pledge was fulfilled, and if so which brands were sold to other companies? I like the sound of products whose makers feel that there is nothing more important than manufacturing them to perform their functions well.

The stance prompted a backlash from the City, amid growing frustration at blue chip companies for prioritising fashionable causes over profits.

Terry Smith, one of Britain’s best-known investors, has criticised Unilever for becoming “obsessed” with its public image and accused the company of “virtue signalling” rather than focusing on financial performance.

He said in January last year: “A company which feels it has to define the purpose of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has, in our view, clearly lost the plot.”

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Schumacher said Unilever was not “giving up on purpose-led brands” altogether. He said for some brands such as Dove, giving them a social or environmental purpose was “logical”, as it made them more attractive for shoppers. Dove uses the idea of “real beauty” in its marketing campaigns, featuring women with different body types.

The Unilever chief said Ben & Jerry’s was another of its brands which has a “clear purpose”.

The ice cream brand is known for adopting stances on political issues, championing causes including protecting the environment and defending LGTBQ+ and refugee rights.

However, Unilever has clashed with Ben & Jerry’s over its activism in the past. Mr Jope told the ice cream company in July last year it should steer clear of “straying into geopolitics” after the brand attempted to boycott the Palestinian occupied territories. Unilever later sold Ben & Jerry’s Israeli operations.

Ben & Jerry’s has not spoken publicly about the Israel-Hamas conflict since the war broke out.

Mr Schumacher said on Thursday: “They’ve been vocal indeed before because of the social mission that Ben and Jerry’s definitely has. On the conflict, I just have no comment at the moment. It’s not a topic of discussion.”

Tellingly, the Telegraph article adds that the “social mission” to boycott the Palestinian occupied territories did not apply to occupied territories nearer home where Unilever’s profits were at stake:

Mr Schumacher has also come under pressure to address Unilever’s decision to keep selling its products in Russia since taking over as chief executive.

The Telegraph revealed earlier this year that Ukrainian veterans had written directly to Mr Schumacher, urging him to quit Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. They warned Unilever staff risked being conscripted into the war.

Schumacher’s response was to emit words:

On Thursday, Mr Schumacher said Unilever would continue to look at its options, adding: “It is clear that the containment actions that we have taken minimise Unilever’s economic contribution to the Russian state.”

15 comments to The lever wasn’t long enough

  • Y. Knott

    “He added: “I believe that a social and environmental purpose is not something that we should force-fit on every brand.””

    Ah – I see the problem. “… that we should force-fit on every CUSTOMER” – fixed it for him! His predecessor was making the obvious (and supremely irritating) inference, “Well all our products, even the least, smallest and least expensive, are ever-so-socially virtuous – I’ve SEEN to it – so, why aren’t you?” and the world is getting really sick of this approach to selling us things. Gillette was one of the earliest that I noticed, and there have been several others since their famed own-goal Super Bowl ad, all of which resulted in steadily more ruinous consumer boycotts of products; I’ve bought two Gillette items since, and them only due to lousy local selection and no real choice. I know I’m not the only one playing this game; our local conbini still sells-out of Pepsi a lot faster than Coke.

    So a congratulatory note to Mr. Shumacher for waking up and smelling the coffee, and may it prove not to be too late for Unilever, as it has been for Anheuser-Busch; and for all other marketers who might read this, I diffidently advise you that a commercial appeal to customers to recognise the intrinsic social virtue of your products is now almost guaranteed to land you – and your company – in very hot water; so please remember “Get Woke, Go Broke” when you advertise.

    For this service, there is no charge.

  • APL

    Perchance this is an indication of the waning influence of the WEF*, because all that woke shite flows through them.

    I don’t think it’s the end, the oligarchs, will regroup and try another approach.

    *Handy link included should anyone wish to ‘join them’.

  • Paul Marks

    Well at least there is some resistance to this agenda of commercial enterprises pushing political and cultural doctrines – it is good that there is some resistance to this totalitarian agenda.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Given Ben and Jerry’s insistence on propagandizing, I have dropped them from my purchasing list. Similarly for Penzey’s, which started e-mailing me about their various leftist causes. There are other companies that will sell me ice cream or spices without a side dish of propaganda.

  • Terry Smith is a good chap (I have met him several times) and fond of calling a spade a spade.

  • Fraser Orr

    I have a law I might have mentioned here before: when a democrat sees a problem they start a regulatory agency; when a republican sees a problem they create a tax break; when a libertarian sees a problem they quit politics and start a business.

    Which is to say I think we should think of this more as an opportunity than a problem. If these big companies want to piss away their competitive advantage and edge on these types of nonsense it gives an opening for a spunky competitor to come along and eat their lunch. Perhaps I should start Liberty Ice Cream? Or laundry detergent “It keeps your clothes clean and fresh and your liberty intact.” Were I younger and not 120% busy already I think I’d be all over that.

  • Kirk

    It’s all of a piece with what I’ve been saying for years: You can capture the institution, but if you break it while you do so…?

    You’ve accomplished nothing besides killing the institution.

    See all of these examples? People don’t fundamentally believe in this crap; you can make minor, incremental gains with these things, right up until you hit the hard limits. Hit those, and they hit back. Hard. Nobody wants to be lectured about these issues when they’re buying their daily consumables, and nobody wants to pay a premium to be made to feel bad about themselves. Nobody will, either; it’ll run up against the end-point, and then “Poof!”, there go your profits. And, eventually, your company.

    I think this is something a lot of people are going to learn the hard way, in coming years. All the social change that’s been forced on the world? You’re going to see more and more cases wherein the limits are reached, and all that change is going to bounce back. I suspect that the unfortunate fact is that the side-effects from all this “sexual and gender liberation” are going to rebound, and rebound hard: Once people realize that the liberalization that led to things like gay marriage also brought along all the excessive nutters who want to talk to kids while dressed in women’s lingerie, and that they’re not there for the reading, really…? Yeah; that’s going to rebound on all the rest of what people will perceive as the sexually deviant. This is a generational sort of thing, just like the way my friend who was molested as a kid by his foster care parents loathes and hates the foster care system with a seething hatred you can’t even begin to comprehend. Couple that with all the other varied dysfunctions…? We’re in for a New Victorian Age that’s likely gonna take your breath away. People are going to react to all this crap, and it won’t be a measured, carefully considered thing at all: It’s going to be an epic over-reaction, taking the social pendulum quite the other way. Times of excess license are always met with times of the opposite excess, and that’s been true all through history. Observe, and expect it; you may be asked to keep your gay and furry friends safe in attic hiding spaces, should you be of a mind to. I fear that there are pogroms coming, all around the world, as these things finally provoke response.

  • Barbarus

    Interesting. For a long time we have been hearing that businesses are doing all the ESG stuff because of pressure from investors. Now they are apparently backpedalling for the same reason. One wonders whether the proportion of investment from ESG oriented investors has declined dramatically; Powerline Blog seems to be suggesting something along those lines.

  • SteveD

    Well, there goes any possibility of me buying anything made by Unilever again. Pretty soon I won’t be able to buy anything at all.

  • Stonyground

    I think that boycotting something just on your own is pretty pointless. The real effects come from something more spontaneous and organic, when some pronouncement or action causes a large number of customers to abandon a particular brand. Gillette and Budweiser being the most obvious recent examples. In the case of Gillette, they did have a good product although Harry’s is better. In the case of Budweiser, their beer is awful and I suspect that those who decided to buy something else must have realised that for the first time and then never went back.

  • Paul Marks

    Stonyground – in the end all “boycotts” are made up of individual human beings.

    If a company, a corporation, makes a big point of standing for evil (and it is evil) then it is the moral duty of an individual human being to not buy its products. You do not give money to organisations who want you dead or enslave – and it is as serious as that, this is the Frankfurt School Marxism that so many “capitalist” Corporations have chosen, in their madness, to support.

    Not giving your enemies money was what Ayn Rand called “the sanction of the victim” – and the lady was correct about this.

    If you keep giving them money (“it is a good product”) then you are digging your own grave – and the graves of your friends and you family, for they will use that money to support the evil forces that wish to kill or enslave.

    This is true in the case of a single corporation, such as one that gives money to the “BLM” Marxist terrorists, or a grand scale – such as giving money to an enterprise that backs the aims of the Communist Party regime in the People’s Republic of China, and ALL enterprises in China (by law) actively back this aim of world domination – they really do, just as the enterprises of Nazi Germany had to back the regime (whether they wanted to – or not).

  • Paul Marks

    If a corporation gets the idea that “if we do not do what the left want they will hurt us, but we can do anything and conservatives and libertarians will carry on buying our products” they will carry on doing evil things.

    That is how we got to where we are – where, for example, employees of a company can be dismissed for expressing (or having ever expressed) conservative political or cultural opinions.

    Whilst people carry on buying the products of companies who behave like this – companies will carry on behaving like this.

  • Rich Rostrom

    What about Chik-Fil-A?

    They close on Sundays, because of the biblical proscription against working on the Sabbath. This diminishes their aggregate sales and profits.

    Is that morally or ethically comparable to ESG?

  • Fraser Orr

    @Rich Rostrom
    What about Chik-Fil-A?

    A couple of points on this:

    1. This is a privately owned business, owned by one family. It is quite different than a publicly traded company. The owners do get to set the values. It is why a guy with a bake shop can, or should be able to, turn down baking a cake for a gay wedding. (To be clear — I am strongly in favor of gay people’s right to marry, and equally strongly in favor of the bake shop to choose who they do business with.)

    2. Although the ESG crowd would make this same claim, I think there is VERY good evidence that taking this stand on “the sabbath” makes them very much more attractive to a particular, large customer base, namely Christians. I know a lot of people who MUCH prefer them over other fast food places for this reason only. So I’m not sure it is true to say they are reducing profits.

    3. A key concept in marketing and corporate management is niching — the idea that you narrow the scope of your target audience because in so doing you can get a much larger share of them, which both reduces your marketing costs and increases your overall total share of the whole market.

    I’m not a Christian, I eat all seven days of the week, but from both a ethical point of view — they are not using other people’s money to promote their values — it is good, and it might well be a more profitable choice too.

    The ESG crowd pretends this point 2 applies to them too, but I doubt there is any evidence to support this.