Abstract: Learning to Live with Governments: Unilever in Developing Countries, 1950-1980

Geoffrey Jones


A noteworthy characteristic of the contemporary global economy is the uneven distribution of world foreign direct investment (FDI). In 2004 three-quarters of world FDI was located in developed countries. The residual was concentrated in a small number of emerging countries. Large countries with little inward FDI included India and Turkey. This is puzzling, given that both countries have greatly liberalized their regulations on inward FDI. After 1945 many developing governments pursued policies which restricted foreign-owned firms. India and Turkey were among the countries with particularly difficult policy environments. This paper explores why Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer products company, was able to sustain large businesses in developing countries such as India and Turkey. The paper argues that the explanation is multi-causal. Unilever held first-mover advantages, but was also prepared to accept low dividend remittances for years. It pursued flexible business strategies beyond its "core" business, even distributing condoms. It maintained a high standard of corporate ethics. It was effective at building contacts with local business and government elites, primarily through localization of management.