David Cameron's speech at Unilever offices in Mumbai

David Cameron gave a speech and took questions at the offices of Unilever in Mumbai, India

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon David Cameron

Nitin Paranjpe

It’s a real pleasure and privilege for me today to welcome the British Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron to our office.  We are absolutely delighted.  We are absolutely delighted that in your very short visit here, you have chosen to visit Hindustan Unilever and our office here which, as you know, has close ties and traces its routes with the United Kingdom. 

I also want to take this opportunity to welcome all the other dignitaries who have come here with you: Ministers of your cabinet and over 100 business leaders have come here on this visit.  It’s a really special occasion for us and I’m told amongst the largest trade visits today.  And, of course, all the ladies and gentlemen of the British Press and the Indian Press who are here today. 

That you’ve come here with over 100 people and 100 businessmen I think only reflects your commitment and your deep desire to strengthen what are already really strong relationships between the United Kingdom and India.  And in many ways its interesting and quite topical for me to mention that your visit also coincides with Unilever making a €50 million investment in India in setting up a state of the art factory which will be Unilever’s first aerosol manufacturing plant in all of Asia. 

And lastly, before I hand over the mic to you and leave the floor open I just thought I’d mention to all my colleagues here, who in many ways represent the finest and brightest professionals that you could get anywhere, and we are really blessed and privileged to have them, and to the many young students that are aspiring leaders of business, who are here, I’d say, it’s a really rare and special opportunity that we have; make the most of it.  I know the Prime Minister would be very keen to engage and hear you and feel free to ask any question which is on your mind and make the most of this occasion.  So, over to you.

Prime Minister

Thank you very much, Nitin.  And it’s fantastic to be back in Mumbai.  I’m very proud of the fact that I have been Prime Minister for two and a half years and this is my second visit to India, because I want Britain and India to have a really special relationship.  And I thought this was the place to come because it was over 100 years ago that the first bars of Sunlight Soap left Liverpool Docks and came to India, and judging by things, things have come along quite a long way in Unilever since then.  And I brought with me the biggest ever business delegation to leave Britain’s shores.  And I’m really proud to be bringing them here to meet with Indian businesses and to link up our countries.

India’s rise is going to be one of the great phenomena of this century, and it is incredibly impressive to see the vibrancy of your democracy, the great strength of the diversity of your country and the enormous power of your economy that is going to be one of the top 3 economies by 2030.  And that’s why I’m here; Britain wants to be your partner of choice.  We think there are huge ties obviously of history, and language and culture and business, but we think we’ve only just started on the sort of partnership that we could build.  Yes, it’s a partnership about business, but as my delegation today proves it should go way beyond business.  I brought some of Britain’s biggest and best companies here to India, but I’ve also brought the Premier League, I’ve bought some of our top universities, the British Museum; we want to tie up in so many different ways with your culture, your companies, your businesses and, of course, your people.  And I think that’s an important point. 

The business relationship is already strong.  Britain is the biggest European investor into India.  India puts half of its investment in Europe into my country in Britain, so we have that relationship but we should build on it.  And, as I said, this is a relationship about the future, not the past.  We are very excited by the fact that you’re planning 40 million more university places, and we want to help you provide them.  We’re very excited by the fact that you’re going to be doubling your spending on health as a share of your GDP, and we want to help you provide those services.

As I’ve said, we look at the power and the growth of your economy and we see amazing opportunities.  For instance, we’re now looking with your Government about whether we can open up a whole corridor between Mumbai and Bangalore of growing towns and development and work and plan that with you.  But as well as these business relationships and these cultural relationships, I think the relationships between our countries can go even further than that.  You are the largest democracy in the world; we’re one of the oldest democracies in the world.  You have incredible diversity of different religions in your country; Britain is the same.  And, yes, we both face this extraordinary and difficult challenge of fighting terrorists and terrorism in our midst, and I want us to meet that challenge together.

We have over 1.5 million people of Indian origin living in the United Kingdom, and that strengthens the ties.  And I’m very proud that I’ve brought British Indian businesses back here to India.  I have British Indian parliamentarians from all parties as part of my delegation to show the ties between our countries.  So as far as I’m concerned, the sky is the limit.  It’s about business, economy and trade, but it’s also about culture, it’s about politics, it’s about diplomacy.  India is going to be one of the leading nations in this century and we want to be your partners, and that’s why I’m here today.

Now, we’ve got some time for questions.  Don’t be shy, you can ask anything you like.  I’ll do my best to answer.  Who wants to go first?


Good morning, sir, a very warm welcome to India.  My question goes: we have a lot of students here who go to UK to pursue higher education.  However, looking at the job scenario there they tend to return back to India.  So how do you see that improving in the coming times?

Prime Minister

Very good point - I think this is a key part of our partnership, and I’ve challenged my Government and I’ve challenged our team to say let’s look at all the things we can do to strengthen the relationship by getting rid of barriers between us.  So in terms of university students we have a very clear message here in India this week, which is there’s no limit on the number of Indian students that can come and study in British universities.  They obviously need an English language qualification and a place, but there’s no limit on the numbers.  So as many of you who can get places at our great universities are welcome to come.

And having completed a course at those universities, if you can get a graduate-level job you can stay and work in the United Kingdom.  And again there’s no real limit on the length of time you can stay and work in the United Kingdom.  I want people to come to British universities for a very simple reason: I want our universities to expand and to succeed.  But also I know if you study at a British university and you work for a while in Britain, when you do come back to India you’ll want to trade with Britain, you’ll want to invest in Britain, you’ll want to set up businesses that work with Britain, so I think there’s a real opportunity.

There’s also an opportunity for our universities to share expertise with your universities, and to help provide these 40 million extra university places that your Government is planning.  I think I’m right that there are 500,000 Indians under the age of 25; that one of the biggest challenges for your country is how you educate all those people.  We want to be your partners as we do that.  Obviously, some coming to Britain but many more studying here, but hopefully with courses that we’ve helped you to write.


Good morning and welcome here.  I have a couple of questions for you.  My first one: we are indeed honoured that you chose to begin your day with Unilever in India.  And given that you could have as easily chosen to begin your day with any of the top British companies operating out of India, are there any specific reasons you chose to begin your day here? 

And my second question: given your job profile, I’m sure that you will have your fair share of pressures and stress, how do you keep yourself physically and mentally fit?  

Prime Minister

Thank you.  Well, on the first one, I think it’s great to come to Unilever because I think it’s a really good example of partnership between Britain and India.  As I said, the first trade in terms of Unilever started over 100 years ago, so there’s an enormous heritage.  And there are Indians who have worked in Unilever in Britain, there are British people who have worked here at Unilever in Mumbai, so the connections are there, the history’s there, the past is there, but all the potential is in the future.  And that is where I think it’s a very good place to start, to say let’s build on the culture, the heritage, the links that we have.

In terms of how I try and keep body and soul together, I try and stay a little bit fit.  So I try and go for a run a week, I try to play a game of tennis every week and I try not to go to bed too late.  But like all these things, that doesn’t always work.  But the most important thing is to have a very good team around you; that is I think the most important thing, to make sure you can delegate and you can have a team that you can work with and get things done for you.  But as I always say, if you’re exhausted and if you’re fried mentally, you’ll be a hopeless Prime Minister.  You have to try and keep a good equilibrium and balance and then hopefully you can make good decisions!


Good morning, Mr Prime Minister.  I recently read that London is the most diverse city in the world, specifically with regard to women; we see a lot of women in very senior positions in all walks of life.  Indian corporates still have some way to go, so what would be your advice to us?

Prime Minister

Well, thank you.  First of all I think London is a very diverse city; I think the Olympics showed what an incredibly diverse nation is.  And I think all of the visiting athletes found it very exciting that wherever they were from, however tiny the country they were from, there was an audience of people in the United Kingdom with links to their country.  So every football team had a home supporter crowd as well as very welcoming British people.

I think the issue you raise about making sure that we are more equal, more fair in terms of promoting men and women is absolutely vital.  I think we are getting there in Britain, but we still have a long way to go.  If you look at the top businesses in Britain there still aren’t nearly enough women in the boardroom.  If you look at politics in Britain, there aren’t nearly enough women round the Cabinet table.  So I think in every walk of life, whether it’s the judiciary, whether it’s politics, whether it’s business, there’s a lot further to go.

And my view about this is it isn’t enough just to open up and say we are - we will treat everyone equally.  When you’re starting from such a position of disadvantage, companies, political parties, other organisations need to actively go out and encourage women to join in, to sign up, to take the course, to become part of the endeavour.  Because just opening up and saying, ‘you’re welcome to try if you want to,’ doesn’t really get over the fact that there have been all sorts of barriers in the way.  So in terms of my political party, before the last election we only had 19 women Members of Parliament, we now have around 50.  So we’ve made a big change but it’s still 50 out of 300, so it’s not nearly enough, so we need to do more.

My wife likes to say if you don’t have women in top places, you’re not just missing out on 50% of the talent, you’re missing out on a lot more than 50% of the talent!  And I think she probably has a point.


Mr Prime Minister, my question pertains to taxation.  In recent weeks - perhaps in recent years - there’s a growing expectation both internationally, including in your country and also in ours where stakeholders have been raising claims on companies for a greater payment of taxation.  There’s also an expectation from governments, including ours, that many companies will contribute more to taxation.  So my question to you, sir, is, what is your brief to business leaders?  Is taxation to be treated as a cost of doing business and therefore the minimisation of which is in some sense a legitimate business pursuit?  Or is it an appropriation of profits which - which therefore as business leaders you must take pride in maximising and sharing with governments and stakeholders and all of you.  What is your position on this subject?

Prime Minister

Well, my position is taxation is a part of the cost of doing business, but I think if you like there’s a deal.  And the deal in my country I want to be very frank about, which is you have a government that is cutting the levels of business taxation.  We are cutting the level of corporation tax (tax on company profits) down to 21%; that is a good, low, competitive rate.  And I think the message to business should be: if we are cutting this rate of tax down to a good, low level, you should be paying that rate of tax rather than seeking evermore aggressive ways to avoid it.  And I think there has been a problem in this debate in the past in that people have said, ‘well of course there is a difference between tax evasion, which is illegal and should be pursued by the full force of the law and then there is tax avoidance, which is perfectly legal and okay.’  And I think the problem with that is there are some forms of tax avoidance that have become so aggressive that actually I think there are moral questions that we have to answer about whether we want to encourage or allow that sort of behaviour.

Now, of course, some would say we’ll just keep changing the law to make the aggressive avoidance illegal, but with respect to friends in the accountancy profession - and I have many friends in the accountancy - it is difficult to do that.  So I think there’s a legitimate debate to say a very aggressive form of avoidance are not appropriate, and particularly in a country that’s set a low tax rate it is fair to ask people to pay it.

But I think there’s a very important international agenda here, which is about greater transparency.  Countries that want to develop, that need to have good public services, they need to have a tax base.  They need to be able to raise legitimate tax revenues.  And we won’t see the sort of development we need in our world unless they have a good tax-base; that means more transparency, more information sharing between countries and making sure that there are fair rules of the road - for governments to obey, but also for businesses to obey.  And Britain is chairing the G8 this year, and I want there to be a real debate about how we have greater transparency, greater fairness, so that people pay their share.  But I believe in low taxes.  Government should be trying to get the rates of tax down so that they’re competitive, but then I think it’s only fair to ask businesses to pay them. 


Sir, this is your first visit since 2010, so in terms of expectations from India, is there any changes in terms of, say, economic policies and ease of doing business and attitudinal shift?

Prime Minister

Yes, that’s a very good question.  Look, I think as these partners of choice - which I hope we’ll be: Britain and India in this special relationship, as I put it - I think we should both be asking ourselves what more can we do to take the barriers down and to increase the opportunities.  So, in Britain, we have looked at the issue, for instance, of students and said we must have no limit on the number of students that can come.  We’ve looked at the issue of visas where we do already grant nine out of ten of the visas that Indians seek to come to Britain, but we know that business would like a faster service, so we are going to introduce a same-day business visa service.  We’ve looked at the issue of technology, where Indian companies and the Indian government says to us, ‘We’d like you to share more high-tech goods with us’, and we’re rewriting the rules to help that happen.

And Britain is one of the most open, easy to invest in economies anywhere in the world.  We are incredibly welcoming.  I’m very proud of the fact that it is an Indian company, Tata, that makes the Jaguars and the Land Rovers that are taking the world by storm.  They also roll most of our steal, and own Tetley tea, and you don’t get any more British than Tetley tea, so I’m very proud of that.  Britain’s an open economy and we encourage that investment in.  So, I think, in return we should be having a conversation which we’ll have this week with the Indian government about opening up the Indian economy, trying to make it easier to do business here, allowing insurance and banking companies to do more foreign direct investment into the Indian economy.  There are still many rules and regulations in the Indian economy associated with how you did things in the past, which we think, if you change, will make your economy grow faster, will deliver more jobs, more wealth, more prosperity across your country.  So, I think it’s a good conversation to have, but it goes both ways.  We should look at the things we need to do to take our barriers down, and we hope that your government will do the same. 


Good morning, Mr Prime Minister.  My question is with regard to sustainable growth.  In 2010, Unilever announced the sustainable living plan, where it intends to reduce our environmental impact by half.  My question is, do you believe that governments are doing enough with regard to policy and regulation, and what is it that you would recommend?

Prime Minister

Are governments doing enough?  All over the world, no, governments are not doing enough.  We are not on track to meet what we need to do to deal with climate change, and to make sure that our policies are sustainable.  But I think there are countries - and I am proud to be Prime Minister of one - who can put their hand up and say, ‘We are taking real steps.’  We’ve set up a green investment bank with £3 billion in it to invest in green projects.  We passed some of the first climate change legislation anywhere in the world to put limits on carbon for our economy.  We’ve introduced a carbon price floor, so there’s a proper price for carbon in our economy.  We’re investing, with the assistance of Indian businesses, into massive off-shore wind programmes, so that our energy becomes less reliant on carbon.  So, it can be done, and I think the argument we have to have right across the world is to try and prove to business, to our people, that this is actually a growth agenda; it’s not a miserable agenda of low growth and no growth.  It’s a growth agenda, because these new green technologies - whether it is waste recycling, whether it is wind power, whether it’s nuclear power because there are no carbon emissions - these are growth items, and green tech jobs are growing faster in our economy than many other parts of our economy.

So that is the battle we have to have: to make it a growth agenda and to make sure that all countries are pursuing this because, frankly, unless the really big economies decide to take on the issue of climate change, then we won’t succeed in what we need to do.


What, according to you, has been the biggest challenge of working in the coalition government and, on a lighter note, what part of Indian cuisine are you looking forward to trying?

Prime Minister 

I was looking at the coalitions you have in India; I think they’re more complicated than my coalition, so… The difficulty hasn’t actually been the coalition.  Obviously it’s new in British politics; the first time in 70 years we’ve had a coalition government, so it is new.  But actually government shouldn’t be so different to business, where you sit round a table, sometimes with people you don’t agree with, and you have to work out what is the best way forward.  I think the difficulty has been much more that in Europe right now we have difficult economic circumstances; we’ve had the eurozone crisis which has taken down the growth rate of the European continent, and the challenge of dealing with a big budget deficit, having to make difficult cuts, having to put up some taxes, having to deal with an economy that has struggled to grow.  That’s been the challenge, rather than being in a coalition itself.

I think there are some good things to coalition, which is that it means that often you have to challenge some of your own thinking, and you have to think new - new thoughts about how best to get things done, and you have to look at the evidence rather than just thinking, ‘Well, this is what we’ve always believed.’  So there are some positive sides to it.  But of course there are frustrations; I have a little list of things that I haven’t been able to do that I’d like to do, and I sometimes say that’ll be the Conservative manifesto in 2015.

Now, things I’m looking forward to - well, I don’t know how much time I’m going to get to eat here, but the last time I came I had some fantastic food and two times ago I came here to Mumbai and had some particularly good food.  I’m a moderate cook; my wife is a very good cook - she makes a fantastic Kerala fish curry.  Sadly I’m not going to Kerala this time  - but maybe next time - but that’s what I’d like to have it as it’s made in Kerala, and see if it compares with my wife’s.


Good morning, Mr Prime Minister.  My question is seeking to draw on your personal experiences.  As Britain’s youngest Prime Minister, in many ways you epitomise the changing order in which younger people are taking on positions of leadership and responsibility much earlier.  Given your early days in office, what have been some of your leadership challenges and lessons which you would like to share with an audience like this?

Prime Minister

I think one of the challenges in government, rather like the challenge in a very big business, is trying to get everyone to work together and try and bring the different departments together, and I would say one of the successes that we’ve had is for the first time setting up a national security council.  So when we are considering, for instance, the problems with terrorism, it’s very important that you have your Interior Minister, your intelligence services, your policing services, but also your Foreign Office, your military all around the table, considering what has happened with this terrorist attack - including, for instance, the terrorism you’ve suffered here in Mumbai - what does it mean for India, what does it mean for Britain back home, how can we work with you - bringing everyone together.

 And I think I would like to see, you know, more ways that we do that, because otherwise government, rather like - companies worked in the sixties, you often had silos.  So sales didn’t talk to marketing, marketing didn’t talk to research, research didn’t talk to merchandising, and so on.  Government can be like that and I think we need to bring the bits of government together, and that is a key part of leadership.

 I think one of the - one of the challenges that is bigger, in many ways, than you expect, are the issues - all the issues of security.  For instance, around the Olympics: that was an enormous task, just as you had here with the Commonwealth Games, trying to make sure that really big events are safe in a dangerous and difficult world.  And the amount of time you spend as a Prime Minister on the problems of security, terrorism - I knew it would be big, but it has been even more than expected and I think it’s just going to be one of the challenges of our times.  I think we have to be smart in how we fight it; you obviously have to have a very strong security response to these things, but you’ve also got to be more creative, more imaginative and think as well about how we get different communities to live and work together.


Good morning, sir.  A very warm welcome to India.  My question was: despite 80% of Mumbai’s population using public transport, we have a significant traffic problem in the city.  What can we learn from London in civic infrastructure development and management?

Prime Minister

Well, I’m not sure I’d hold up London as a perfect example.  I think one of the things I’d say is if you know you’ve got to build new infrastructure, even though you know it’s going to take many years before it comes to fruition, start now.  I think for years in London, we were lucky we had a great Underground system, but then we didn’t invest enough in permanently updating it.  And so we relaxed, thinking we had this great infrastructure and, actually, you need to update it all of the time.  Right now, under the streets of London, we’re digging the biggest construction project anywhere in Europe: the Crossrail project.  But that was delayed and delayed, and put off and put off, and you know you really need to start with these things now.

I think it is an area where you need proper planning.  You can’t leave these things to the market; you’ve got to have a proper plan for public transport.  In recent years in London, the bus system has actually been growing and growing; extremely popular.  We’ve introduced congestion charging, which is very contentious, and there’s a debate about how much it’s really helped.  But you’ve got to have properly planned public transport, and you have to start the work on that.

I think the challenge for all of us, with big budget deficits and governments that struggle to raise the revenue they need, is we have to find ways of planning it publicly, but getting it built and financed privately.  And that is one of the things that my delegation has got - a lot of talented people in those sorts of services.  And that’s why we’re looking at, with the Indian Government, of this corridor between Mumbai and Bangalore, because with me I’ve got architects, planners, private finance experts who can work out a complete solution, putting together all the things that you need to have great infrastructure.

But there’s no doubt that the countries that will succeed in the future will be those ones that have got the good infrastructure in the broadest sense.  Great universities, but also great infrastructure for getting around your country.  And it’s clearly a challenge in India as it is a challenge for us.


These are different times.  You spoke about how Tata are really making a significant imprint in the UK, so what advice would you really give to businesses which are looking eastward?  You know, when they’re setting up in terms of softer skills and cultural factors, what do you think would be required for them to succeed?

Prime Minister

What advice would I give?  Well, I think the most important thing for British business is to look eastwards and south.  I think we have to recognise that Britain has got an important role to play in Europe, and that is still for the UK.  The continent of Europe is still around 50% of our trade, but that 50% hasn’t been growing very fast.  It’s the rest of the world that has been growing faster.

And so my advice, and the reason I lead these trade missions, is we need to link Britain with the fastest growing parts of the world - with India, with China, Indonesia, Malaysia.  And we have to recognise it’s no longer an issue of just trying to sell more goods and services into a country; it’s about jointly investing in new projects and also welcoming investment back into the UK, and I think British business is well-placed to do this.  I think everybody understands.  The world is changing; we must change with it.  Britain’s always been a trading nation.  We do have good links and respected brands across the world, but we need to make the most of them.


Good morning, sir.  My question to you is: when all of two out of three Indians are using Unilever brands, what is the scenario in the UK?  And, one brand of Unilever which is very close to you and why?

Prime Minister

Right.  Well, we have very similar brands in the UK, and we have the same battle between Unilever and Procter & Gamble and the other big brands.  I used to work in television and the advertising budget was absolutely dependant on what Unilever decided, what Procter & Gamble decided.  I don’t want to start a flurry of excitement with saying that I use pear soap, or whatever it is.  I might get some of your brands wrong, and mention the dishwasher liquid we use and find it’s made by your competitor, so I’m going to do that thing that politicians always do when they get a really tough one and dodge the question.

But I know - I know you produce amazing brands, and I know that you are incredibly well spread out across this country.  It’s been great to come here today.  I’m really grateful for your hosting me in this extraordinary building.  I wish you success in the future in this amazing, rapidly growing and changing country.  I have no doubt that India is going to be the huge success story of this century and I’m proud to have brought such a big delegation so that we can work with you to make that a reality and to strengthen the ties between our two countries.  Thank you, very much indeed.

Published 18 February 2013