Ethics of human research

To deliver the products that people want, we need to involve people in the research and development process. Unilever is committed to ensuring that research on human subjects is conducted to the highest ethical standards, whether or not there is any legal requirement to apply such standards.

Consumer insight

Successful innovation is based on deep consumer insight. Consequently, we seek to build on our global strength in R&D with local knowledge of people’s habits and behaviours, and the benefits they gain from using our products. As such, in order to deliver the products that people want, we need to involve those people in the research and development process.

Research Ethics

Ethical aspects are an intrinsic part of proper conduct of human studies, and high standards are needed to help ensure that studies are effective. Unilever is committed to ensuring that research on human subjects is conducted to the highest ethical standards, whether or not there is any legal requirement to apply such standards.

This is mandatory for all R&D studies which involve human subjects (including clinical studies, consumer tests and product sensory evaluation studies) conducted by Unilever personnel or by third parties engaged in studies or research on behalf of Unilever. There are two key pillars that underpin Unilever’s approach, and which ensure that R&D meets its ethical obligations and maintains an ethical culture.

  • Firstly, all studies undergo review by a properly constituted, independent, Research Ethics Committee (REC)/Institutional Review Board (IRB).

  • Secondly, an external advisory group (The Central Research Ethics Advisory Group, CREAG) formulates guidelines, monitors compliance with the Unilever Standard, ensures the quality and consistency of practices, and acts as a source of information and advice to Unilever. The CREAG reports to the Unilever Executive and Unilever Board through the Chief Science Officer.

In addition to raising awareness of the ethical issues involved with using human subjects in research, CREAG advises teams on ways of working and the quality of ethical processes.

Specifically, the Group ensures that:

  • the rationale for doing research including human subjects is clear and the benefits articulated

  • any risks to volunteers are minimised, understood and acceptable

  • individuals give their consent voluntarily based on adequate information

CREAG ensures that research teams, and Unilever as a whole, understand why ethics is so important. Its remit includes shaping internal guidance and anticipating issues that may arise from, or impact, the organisation’s research programme.

CREAG members:

Professor Frans Brom (Chair)

Frans Brom is head of the Department of Technology Assessment of the Rathenau Institute and holds a Chair for the Ethics of Technology Assessment, at the Department of Philosophy, Utecht University. He focuses on the ethical and societal impact of science and technology and the interaction between ethics and political theory.

Professor Denis Fischbacher-Smith

Denis Fischbacher-Smith is Research Professor of Risk and Resilience at the University of Glasgow. He is also deputy head of the Business School and Director of Research. His main research interests are in the areas of risk and crisis management, organisational security, adverse events in health care and complexity and organisational performance.

Ms Claire Foster-Gilbert

Claire Foster-Gilbert is Founder-Director of the Westminster Abbey Institute for ethics in public life, and Director of the Ethics Academy, an educational charity. She was formerly Director of the St Paul's Cathedral Institute, which she co-founded, a lay canon at St Paul's Cathedral, and medical and environmental ethics adviser to the Archbishops' Council of the Church of England. Before that she ran the research ethics committee project at King’s College, London. She is a member of the British Medical Association's Medical Ethics Committee and on the Advisory Council of the McDonald Centre for public ethics and theology, Christ Church College, Oxford.

Professor Sian Griffiths

Sian Griffiths is Professor of Public Health, Director of the Centre for Global Health and Senior Adviser on International Academic Development at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Professor Pali Hungin

Pali Hungin is the Dean of Medicine and Professor of Primary Care and General Practice at Durham University, UK.

Professor Lori Knowles

Lori Knowles specializes in comparative international health law, bioethics and biotechnology policy. She is a Fellow of the Health Law Institute of the University of Alberta, Canada and Chair of the Institute of Forest Biotechnology.

Professor Marcel Verweij

Marcel Verweij is Professor of Philosophy, at Wageningen University. His main research interests concern the ethics and philosophy of public health. He is also editor-in-chief of Public Health Ethics and a member of the Health Council of the Netherlands.