Unilever's Archives & Records Management (UARM) wants to address the knowledge gap within archival practice relating to issues of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I), including how and where marginalised histories are represented within their collections.
Records relating to race and ethnicity have been identified as particular areas for which working archival knowledge could be improved, and potential research and other activities supported.
Unilever’s Archives & Records Management (UARM) has partnered with the University of Essex through a new partnership under the University’s Corporate Partnership Fund to co-design a bespoke 6-month part-time research project for a Research Assistant to explore the scope of potential for their archival holdings related to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I). The project is based at Unilever’s unique business Archives in Port Sunlight, with distanced interdisciplinary supervision from academics Dr Alix Green and Prof Ilaria Boncori across two of Essex’s departments, led by the Department of History with Essex Pathways.
Through a cross-collection scoping survey of Unilever’s archival holdings, the project will map the existing collections for relevant material and produce guidance and recommendations on acquisition, documentation, and utilisation of these records. It will also provide research into industry best practice examples and case studies from other companies with archival holdings.
By exploring the archive, UARM can learn more about not just these records themselves, but what stories they may be used to tell, what absences there are, how accessibly this information is documented, and what potential they might hold for future projects.
As part of Unilever's strategy to create a future-fit organisation with a growth culture, this project will help fulfil the company's objective of being a beacon for ED&I and values-based leadership.
The Research Assistant and Essex's expertise and experience in business heritage will allow the company to build up future research initiatives around the emerging field of ED&I in UK Business and help Unilever be transparent and open about its past and how that has shaped it today.
The practical outcomes of the project will benefit not only archival staff, but subsequently its users and broader community by contributing towards improving access to records of marginalised histories.
Research outputs may also address current challenges for the business around staff wellbeing, recruitment, and retention through tracing its past, as well as examine an under-researched area into how change can be practically and positively implemented within business archive contexts.
By providing insight into the many possibilities for use if this material, this work will lead the way for future projects and creative outcomes which fit within the company's marketing strategy and stakeholder networks, as well as present opportunities to connect local and wider communities to Unilever's heritage.
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