Our open letter to Unilever’s CEO Featured on FD

21st of february 2020 

Dear Alan Jope,

I’m reaching out to you regarding your recent announcement of putting the 2.9 bn euro tea division on sale. I understand that the return on investment is not desirable enough in the long-term strategy of your company, and not in line with your focus on fast-growing segments that are sensitive to technology and marketability, and trends like vegan. 

I agree, tea is an age-old commodity, and one might indeed consider it less trendy than a lab-made burger, although to give it some credit, tea has always been vegan. Tea is simultaneously the most consumed beverage in the world, next to water, and as you’re most likely aware, Unilever is the largest tea producer in the world. When it comes to your ‘portfolio evaluation criteria’, tea is certainly checking the box of the ‘sufficient size’ criteria, I’d think, but I’m certainly no expert. 

Please allow me to state a few more facts. 

Unilever buys 10% of the world’s tea supply, and is the largest producer in Kenya which in turn is the world’s second largest tea exporting country. More than 1 million people in the tea business are employed through you in 21 different countries, with the majority of smallholder farmers earning far below living wage. 

Let me be frank, I’m sincerely worried about those 1 million people’s futures. 

If Unilever, a company that is stated as ‘defining a new era of responsible capitalism’ considers the historic tea segment’s growth too little, what will other, less responsible, companies make of it? What will happen to the tea sector at large, to the millions of workers employed on the estates, if a different company takes over? Where will the desired growth come from? Where in the supply chain will costs be cut? My blind guess is that downstream won’t be the first choice. 

I think we can all agree that the tea sector is broken, and desperately needs fixing. The question is, who will take responsibility for the fixing? 

Let us just for a brief moment in time consider a scenario that extends beyond ROI; a scenario in which the ‘truly purpose-driven company’ that Unilever is, according to your predecessor Paul Polman, is actually driven by purpose AND financial output. How will purpose be considered in the evaluation of the portfolio, in the choice for a potential buyer?  

We want to offer you a solution to this dilemma. 

Let me hereby present our offer to buy your tea portfolio. After careful consideration and extensive negotiations with our lawyers, we offer you the grand amount of 1,00 euro for your tea division. 

Repairing the unhealthy tea sector, ensuring that farmers will finally receive a fair share of the pie, showing consumers that paying 5 cent for a tea bag is not the true price of a tea bag, is going to be very costly for us. Hence why we believe that the 1,00 euro reflects the current true value of the tea portfolio. 

We hope you consider our offer carefully. We’re confident that together, we can create a bright future for the world’s most consumed beverage, the millions of workers, and the billions of happy consumers around the world, connected through a cup of tea, every single day. 

On behalf of Frank about tea, 

Sincerely,

Valerie Hirschhauser 

As featured on.. https://fd.nl/ondernemen/1335856/idealistisch-theebedrijf-doet-symbolisch-bod-op-theetak-unilever

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