Unilever are backing a major campaign in Uganda, and later Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal and Benin, to encourage hand washing - and the use of Lifebuoy soap. It states openly that it wants to make washing hands with soap a habit in order to sell more bars of its Lifebuoy soap. It is not being passed off as corporate social responsibility, which is a refreshing change.
Several organisations such as UNICEF, USAid, and the Gates Foundation, are involved in the campaign to encourage hand washing before eating and after going to the toilet. Although the amount of money being invested is tiny compared with other campaigns, it could be extremely cost-effective. According to the World Health Organisation, in Uganda alone, 140 out of 1000 children will die before the age of five, 17% from diarrhoea and 21% from pneumonia.
These organisations could conduct their campaign themselves but Unilever brings marketing skills, and more sophisticated ways of shaping behaviour beyond simple public health education. Unilever stands to gain by being seen to be in partnership with organisations such as UNICEF, and they are hoping that their Lifebuoy soap will be linked so closely with hygiene and health that people will be prepared to pay more for it than the basic soap already available.
Although I still feel uncomfortable about a multinational company being involved in this sort of thing, I'm not quite as concerned as with the Procter & Gamble campaign. Unilever are at least being perfectly open about it. Nevertheless, it remains the case that big business is attempting to manipulate people who can ill afford it to buy unnecessary products. Simply washing with ordinary soap would be an enormous step forward.
From the Financial Times Deutschland