a special supplement of ACC Docket 9
To provide some
context, seven out of
10 households carry
which equates to nearly
2. 5 billion people.
A NEW BRAZIL: UNILEVER GC NEWMAN DEBS ON THE RAPID GROWTH OF IN-HOUSE COUNSEL IN LATIN AMERICA
has three primary goals: ( 1)
helping more than a billion
people take action to improve their health and well-being by 2020, ( 2) halving
the environmental impact of
Unilever products 2030, and
( 3) enhancing the livelihoods
of millions of people by 2020.
These objectives are then
deconstructed into smaller,
regionally specific tasks. For example,
Unilever plans to increase gender diversity
in every stage of its business plan. By 2020,
the company hopes to actively engage and
empower more than five million women
around the world. Debs asserts that initiatives like these are not only ethical, but they
are good business.
“We want our collaborators to be a sample
of what society out there is like. Because we
sell consumer products, we want everyone
to connect with the products we’re selling.
So it’s very important for us from a business
perspective,” he says.
In Brazil, Debs notes a recent initiative
by SunSilk — a Unilever hair product — to
In 2009, the story repeated itself when
Debs again left Unilever for an opportunity
to work as vice president of PepsiCo Brazil.
Three years later, he received a call from
his former boss, offering him yet another
position — this time as general counsel of
Unilever Latin America. Debs jumped at the
“I think it shows the value of maintaining
connections. Having left and returned, I’ve
been able to see Unilever’s growth as a company within the region. I think [Unilever] is
in a very dynamic market. Consumer goods
are never-ending. I have worked here for
years and still have very different challenges
and projects,” he says.
Throughout his career, Debs has witnessed Unilever create some of the biggest
brand-name products in the world — 13 of
which carry over one billion euros in annual
sales. To provide some context, seven out of
10 households in the world carry Unilever
products, which equates to nearly 2. 5 billion
With over 400 brands in 190 countries,
managing compliance efforts for Unilever is
no small task. In Brazil alone, the company
has 10 industrial complexes including over
15 plants, and more than 13,000 employees, making labor protocol increasingly top
of mind. Debs maintains that regardless of
size or scale, compliance can be achieved by
instilling an ethical regulatory culture from
the top down.
“Because we’re such a large organization,
we cannot afford the luxury of assuming
compliance. As a result, the top management
of the company is highly committed to doing
things ethically. I think it has been why we’ve
been so successful in each one of our markets, and why ethics is such a major part of
Unilever’s history,” he says.
To illustrate this point, Debs discusses
Unilever’s “Sustainable Living Plan,” 1 which
reinforces the company’s commitment to
hyper-local community growth — a mis-
Getting to know… Newman Debs
WHAT BOOK ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND WHY?
I read three or four books at the same time because
I get bored with one and have to move to another.
Sometimes I worry that I might confuse the storylines,
but I think the brain is fantastic in treating each book as
a separate entity so I can digest everything together.
WHERE ARE YOU GOING ON YOUR NEXT VACATION?
I’m thinking Australia, because this is a lifetime dream.
However, it’s very far away from here. That said, I think
that it’s a paradise that many people dream of seeing.
IF YOU COULD HAVE DINNER WITH ANYONE,
LIVING OR DEAD, WHO WOULD IT BE?
Probably my parents, as both of them have
unfortunately passed. I would love to see
them and discuss life once again.