Belfast Telegraph

Unilever chief says bid to employ refugees in UK hit brick wall

The chief executive of a London-headquartered food giant has said efforts to employ refugees in Britain have hit a brick wall.

Unilever chief executive Paul Polman's firm supplies products on supermarket shelves throughout the country, from Dove soap to Ben And Jerry's ice cream.

He said the falling European population was creating a skills shortage which could be filled by those languishing in the mammoth Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan in an economic boost like that which rebuilt the continent after the Second World War.

"We could easily put companies together in Europe to close that camp and give these 15,000 families work.

"I tried to do that in the UK and politically it just ran against a brick wall."

He added: "You need more courageous politicians that are willing to do this because it comes at a personal risk, there is no question about that."

Mr Polman called for EU governments to incentivise companies to hire those seeking asylum on their shores - removing the business risks.

"Why don't we have a Marshall-type plan around refugees or immigration?

"This is an ideal moment for Europe to rally together and say we are going beyond our own self-interest and looking at this a little bit more structurally long-term."

He addressed an international conference as part of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative in Armenia and said not enough business leaders were speaking up.

"The thing we are really lacking is courageous leadership.

"The average tenure of a CEO is four and a half years.

"It is better to just play the shareholder game than playing the societal game.

"You get paid more, it is an easier thing to do, better retirement, people leave you alone."

He said current global agreements were not working; the G7 group of industrialised nations of which Britain is a part could not agree on integration programmes.

"Europe is going down between 2013 and 2020 by 8-10 million people, we cannot find enough people."

He said the low number of refugees taken into Europe was a tragedy, particularly when they had many of the skills missing in Europe and claimed proponents had been silenced by a hostile press.

"That is unfortunate at a time that we need more of the people to speak up and at least have the data right.

"One dollar invested in refugees is two dollars of economic return."

He said the European population is losing up to 10 million people over an eight-year period and companies cannot fulfil STEM needs.

He said very few politicians were able to communicate the right economic and humanitarian facts.

"They would rather talk about it as burdens than as opportunities or responsibilities.

"If we don't change the narrative then it is very difficult to get the public behind you if you need to implement the right policies."

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.