It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without access to a toilet. For the overwhelming majority of the developed world, a clean and functioning toilet is something we take for granted and perhaps don’t even think to question. But for 2.5 billion people across the developing world - that’s almost one third of the global population - having no access to even the most basic sanitation is a reality faced every single day. Of these, 1.1bn are forced to suffer the indignity of practising open defecation – the riskiest sanitation practice of all. What’s more, as the global population continues to grow, this issue is only going to grow more acute. World Toilet Day, founded by the World Toilet Organization in 2001, and celebrated annually on November 19th, is an opportunity to highlight this issue, get people talking and drive real change.

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Jean-Laurent Ingles

In May 2000, the United Nations set out a number of international development goals, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), ), to encourage a defined level of social and economic improvements in the world's poorest countries by 2015. These goals are based on the belief of an individual’s right to dignity, freedom, equality, and a basic standard of living that includes freedom from hunger and violence. At the current rate, MDG 7, the sanitation goal, is lagging the furthest behind and, if this slow rate of progress continues, the MDG target will not be met until 2026.

Finding sanitation solutions that solve these problems is one of the most complex issues in the world today and one that will require collaborative working, bringing together the best brains in public health, science, engineering, business and communications. We at Unilever are committed to helping find these solutions and have the scale, resource and vested interest to address a global crisis of this nature.

For Unilever this is more than simple CSR, this is about social purpose and about finding a sustainable way to establish a very clear link between tackling this crisis and our business ambitions. Businesses often find it difficult to mention these two objectives in the same breath: how can you possibly equate a serious humanitarian issue with increasing sales and profits? Our experience tells us that you have to do that. Domestos is a purpose-led brand and has been committed to helping protect families from germs for more than 80 years. As such, the brand is uniquely positioned to address the sanitation crisis. Ultimately every new toilet is good business for us, because every toilet needs to be cleaned to be sanitary and safe.

That is why we’re working with global partners to plan sustainable sanitation strategies that will make a significant difference to the lives of millions of people around the world. To this extent, World Toilet Day is the single most important date on the calendar to highlight global sanitation issues. Unfortunately, the issue of sanitation is often overlooked due to lack of willingness to talk about toilets and is often referred to as “the last taboo”. This has led to many people around the world ignoring what is an urgent humanitarian issue. This year, Domestos has been working with a range of partners on a variety of activities which aim to get people talking about toilets – on and around World Toilet Day.

One of the ways we are supporting World Toilet Day this year is through “Toilets for Health”, a White Paper written by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in collaboration with Domestos. The paper summarizes the health impacts of poor sanitation and the knock on effects this can have on a community, from issues with education to the impact on the economy. The paper also addresses the scale of the problem, points to the potential benefits of addressing the crisis and gives clear and actionable recommendations for all those who can help find a solution.

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Toilet Academy students learning how to install and maintain a latrine

Unilever is also proud to be pioneering an innovative approach to the provision of sanitation in Vietnam, through its continued partnership with the World Toilet Organization. On November 19th the world’s first Domestos Toilet Academies will be launched in the Vinh Long province in Vietnam. These academies will provide the business skills and training necessary for local entrepreneurs to source and supply latrines to their local communities – providing jobs and a boost to the economy, and at the same time promoting the importance of safe and hygienic sanitation. The Toilet Academy program aims to be a sustainable and long-term solution to sanitation that benefits local society and helps stimulate local economy.

We firmly believe that public/private partnerships such as these are the key to accelerating progress towards ambitious targets like our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and the Millennium Development Goals. The benefits offered by the private sector include consumer understanding and reach while the public sector can bring different channels and access to those most in need. It is through partnerships like these that we will reach our ambitious Unilever Sustainable Living Plan target: to help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being by 2020.

The World Toilet Day partnership activity is just one aspect of the steps Unilever is taking to drive action in this way. In September this year, Unilever joined the UN’s Every Woman Every Child campaign to save the lives of women and children across the world through tackling deadly diseases such as diarrhoea. Unilever’s commitment to sanitation is also demonstrated through the Unilever Foundation and Domestos’ support of UNICEF’s Community Approaches to Total Sanitation program. In this first year of this partnership, UNICEF will reach an estimated 400,000 people living in open defecation free communities across nine countries: Gambia, Ghana, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan and Vietnam.

We want to grow our business and enable more people to enjoy the benefits our products bring – clean drinking water, personal hygiene, affordable nutrition – but growth at any cost is not viable. That’s why the Sustainable Living Plan commits us to developing new ways of doing business so we can continue to grow while both increasing the positive social impacts of our brands and reducing our environmental impacts. Together with our partners, we will deliver solutions that improve the quality of people’s lives, and in turn, drive systemic and scalable social change to achieve the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 7c set by the United Nations.

About The Author

Jean-Laurent Ingles

Jean-Laurent Ingles is Vice President Global Brands Household Care at Unilever. Jean-Laurent joined Unilever France in 1991 as a trainee and has since worked for Unilever in Milan and in London, his current base. He studied at ESSEC International Business School and is married with three children.