In 2020 Devro made positive financial and strategic progress while responding very capably to the market, operational and workplace challenges posed by COVID-19. I would like to record my appreciation to the leadership team and all their colleagues across the Group who have worked safely, flexibly and tirelessly in support of all of our stakeholders during 2020. I am also pleased to report the completion of our Board refresh. We have added important new skills and diverse experiences to the Board to support the delivery of our growth strategy.
Despite the adverse financial impacts of COVID-19, the Group delivered a robust performance in 2020. Financial progress was driven by strong growth in emerging markets, material improvements to margins, and high cash conversion resulting in a substantial reduction in net debt. It is clear that the recent changes to the organisational structure and the associated investment in capabilities have been instrumental to our 2020 delivery and we expect to be able to build on this good progress.
The Group responded rapidly to the changing circumstances at the beginning of 2020. Our response was built around three clear priorities: protecting our people and communities, maintaining our position in the food supply chain and safeguarding our financial position. Strong governance structures and enhanced communication processes were established immediately. We were able to maintain consistent production throughout the Group, ensure that our important role to service customers in the food supply chain continued during 2020, whilst keeping our employees and communities safe. The additional costs involved in implementing additional protective measures including a track and trace system, securing key raw materials and providing wellbeing support to our teams, were essential investments underpinning our successful management of the pandemic to date.
Devro is very aware of its responsibilities to all stakeholders. We have for many years aimed to reduce our impact on the environment, and have made good progress, as well as improving social outcomes including those of our employees.
Making a positive contribution towards our environmental, social and governance responsibilities is key to our future and there is commitment throughout the organisation from the Board down on this. The Group is currently working on a major sustainability enhancement and development of how we articulate our Company Purpose, all of which will be widely communicated in 2021, covering all aspects of sustainability and taking into consideration the views and priorities of all stakeholders. Actions are already well underway and we look forward to sharing further details in due course.
We understand the importance of the dividend to all our shareholders and we are delighted to have been able to maintain our long track record of distributions. In the early stages of the pandemic, as a precautionary measure, the Board decided to postpone the payment of the proposed final 2019 dividend. The postponement allowed us time to confirm the likely ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the business and ensured that our financial position was preserved throughout this evaluation period. Given robust trading in the first half of the year, in July we were able to reinstate the final 2019 dividend, which was paid in October 2020, as well as announce the 2020 interim dividend, which was paid in January 2021.
The Board is proposing a final dividend of 6.3p per share (2019: 6.3p) bringing the total for the year to 9.0p per share (2019: 9.0p). Subject to shareholder approval at the Annual General Meeting in April, the dividend will be paid on 1 October 2021, to those shareholders on the register at 20 August 2021.
It’s been a very difficult year for everybody as we strove to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our personal and working lives. Our leadership team and all their colleagues have responded very positively to these challenges, resolutely addressing short-term issues whilst not losing sight of our longer-term goals. It’s been a huge team effort and on behalf of the Board I’d like to thank them for their commitment and professionalism.
We have continued to work on enhancing engagement with employees, which has been particularly important during these unprecedented times. Our annual ‘TellDev!’ employee engagement survey highlighted an improved level of both participation and engagement which we are encouraged by. We will continue to target further progress in 2021. We also engaged extensively with our colleagues in relation to our sustainability priorities and how we articulate our Company Purpose through a series of workshops in H2 2020. The Board considers it crucial to reflect on their collective views when building our future sustainability plans.
Devro is well positioned for the future and we expect that as the impact of COVID-19 lessens this should become clearer in our financial performance. In 2021 we will continue to focus on our growth agenda, in building a fully integrated sustainability plan and in further improving our financial performance and strength.