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Kimberly-Clark Exit from Nigeria: A missed opportunity for sustainability partnership

Kimberly-Clark, the manufacturer of the popular diaper brand ‘Huggies’, Kleenex tissues and Kotex menstrual products announced earlier in May 2024 their plans to leave Nigeria after almost 15 years, "due to recently refocused company strategic priorities globally as well as economic developments in the country" as stated on the company's website.

Hence, the company will close its manufacturing facility and commercial office in Lagos, ending the manufacturing, marketing, or sale of its Huggies and Kotex products in the country.

According to Business Insider Africa and Nairametrics, the plant's production has been on the decline since late 2023 and this trend has continued into 2024, despite investing $100 million in Nigeria over three years. The decrease in production is primarily linked to the challenging economic conditions in the country.

Many reports on the exit of Kimberly-Clark have focused on the GDP side of the story but this article speaks of a missed opportunity for Nigeria to partake in the company's pledge to stop cutting down 'natural forests' for tissues and diapers. The new focus is on Canada and Alaska, where 25 percent of the world's remaining primary forests are located.

The definition of natural forests encompasses old-growth forests and those that regenerate naturally, typically found in boreal and temperate regions. According to as stated in its 2023 sustainability progress report released on June 2024 the company has progressed with decreased its utilization of fiber sourced from natural forests in Canada and Latin America by 39% compared to its 2011 baseline.

Furthermore, the company has pledged to obtain 90 percent of its fiber from "environmentally preferred sources," such as recycled paper, wood sourced from eucalyptus plantations or managed forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and fiber derived from wheat straw, sugar cane, sorghum, and other sources.

  • In 2020, more than 10 companies ceased operations, among them were prominent companies such as Standard Biscuits Ltd, NASCO Fiber Products Ltd, and Union Trading Company (UTC) Nigeria PLC.

  • In 2021, there was a larger number of companies leaving Nigeria, totaling over 20. Among them were Tower Aluminum Nigeria PLC, Stone Industries Ltd, Mufex Nigeria Ltd, and Framan Industries Ltd.

  • By 2022, more than 15 prominent brands had left the market, including Universal Rubber Company Ltd, Mother’s Pride Ventures Ltd, and Errand Products Ltd.

  • in 2023,a further 10 major multinational corporations depart, including Equinor Nigeria Ltd, GlaxoSmithKline Nigeria Plc, and Bolt Food & Jumia Food Nigeria.

  • Already in the first half of 2024, five major companies, such as Microsoft, Diageo PLC, PZ Cussons PLC, and Kimberly-Clerk, have left.

Nigeria's low position of 146 on the yearly Sustainable Development Goals Index ranking calls for a re-evaluation of the country's approach to meeting the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. This also calls for the repositioning of Nigeria for well-targeted collaboration with organizations already operating within its jurisdiction, particularly global brands with a track record in sustainability innovations and efforts toward a climate change-informed business operation model.

It is a no-brainer that the huge job losses resulting from the impact of 16 multinationals exiting Nigeria in 3 years will have long-term effects, including costing Nigeria's economy 94 trillion Naira in five years.

The mass exodus could mean expanded operation opportunities for local manufacturers, the risk of high rise in counterfeits or substandrad products and a report on the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) website stated that "Nigeria’s foreign investment inflows rose sharply to US$3.4 billion in 2024Q1 from US$1.1 billion both in 2023Q1 and 2023Q4".

However, the type of investment and the eventual translation to the well-being of citizens plus the feasibility of doing business in Nigeria comes with more questions than answers.

Hence, there is an arduous task before the government at all levels to make the business environment conducive to long-term investments such as FDI. Doing this would also end the exit of multinational firms from the country.

However, the presence of a global brands like Kimberly-Clark may have given Nigerians a better "insider' experience of the processes, lessons and partnerships towards the sustainability journey from the operations within Nigeria's jurisdiction and translated some benefits for the local context.

An approach that could be cost-effective at building partnerships with other local brands who are mainly small and medium-scale businesses; making a bulk of its private sector compared to looking for such partnership opportunities with companies that operate abroad.

Such collaboration may be an important step with the potential to help Nigeria overcome some of its economic woes from a sustainability standpoint.

Similar to how Nigeria has yet to fully maximize Jute fiber potential which is known locally as "ewedu" for activating pilot projects aimed at the shift from plastic bags, which remain a menace to the environment and different projects still ongoing across the country. Nigeria may also have missed an opportunity to learn firsthand what sourcing raw materials for manufacturing diapers from wheat straw, sugar cane and sorghum produced locally may look like.

The sourcing of raw materials locally rather than importation which contributes to the high cost of basic items - including products manufactured in Nigeria - remains a challenge. The impact is continued reliance on imported goods which are often cheaper than locally manufactured alternatives.

Nigeria and the race towards 2030

The race towards 2030 is now an open competition as many countries take steps towards defining contextual feasible goals they seek to achieve. Building key partnerships across the board at all levels remains a vital step to achieve meaningful progress. Noted, there are some exemplary community-led partnerships, but achieving long-term sustainability goals necessitates further investment.

The official Nigerian SDG webpage ( at the time of writing this article is currently not active, which leaves pockets of news headlines as means for tracking any SDG-related news projects, launches or partnerships presently activated in Nigeria.

The other issue is that many alleged SDG NGOs, organizations and parastatals are not active on social media platforms and their websites are defunct or have vague details of projects and in some cases, these websites have outdated or unrelated SDG information.

Just like in previous versions, the 2024 SDG Index is led by European countries, with the Nordic countries standing out. Finland takes the top spot, with Sweden and Denmark following closely behind. With a ranking of 146, what can Nigeria learn from these countries or Climate Action Plan of the other top 100 countries ranked in the index? how can Nigeria take key lessons from other parts of the world that are ahead and transform them into something useful within its context for improving the lives of the citizens and the economy overall?

Aside the SDG index, the Peoples’ Climate Vote 2024 on the UNDP website shows how Nigeria is represented in the global vote below in some of the stats:

  • 85% score for the Nigerian to" strengthen its commitments to address climate change,

  • 73% for protecting and restoring nature, for example, by planting trees or protecting wildlife

  • 89% for schools in Nigeria to do more to teach about climate change

  • 27% for how well are big businesses addressing climate change

  • 37% for how well is your country addressing climate change

  • 86% agrees that NIgeria needs to do in safeguarding communities against extreme weather events, such as heatwaves or storms

  • 53% are more worried about climate change compared with last year

The existence of top global business brands in countries like Nigeria where there is such desperate need for purposeful foreign investments, not only creates job opportunities that is interwoven in the economic growth but also creates opportunities for partnerships and SDG-inclined projects that counts positively towards Nigeria's 2030 race, which presently lags behind.

Despite the fact that many locally established brands (founded and developed in Nigeria) have enhanced their operations by integrating climate action, as evidenced in their annual sustainability reports, a significant portion of the focus is placed on conventional community empowerment models, profit-driven expansion (GDP), and the promotion of gender diversity within business activities.

These reports often feature the typical sustainability buzzwords such as ESG, Green, Climate Change, Equality, along with lengthy statements from top executives and attractive images of the company's products, commnity outreaches and awards . However, there remains a lack of substantial data on climate action, with a deficiency in clearly defined measurable steps towards achieving long-term sustainability (when compared to the global conuterparts).

Therefore, it is crucial for Nigerian indigenous companies to understand (rather than simply imitate) strategies from international brands, particularly those in operating in Nigeria, in order to effectively progress towards sustainability through innovative knowledge transfer tailored to succeed in the Nigerian environment.

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