Working with our suppliers

We are committed to supporting our partners in working towards the principles outlined in Unilever's Supplier Code.

This ensures that high standards are maintained across the entire value chain for our products and brands.

Developing successful partnerships

In November 2010 we launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, our vision to grow our business sustainably. Under the Plan, by 2020 we aim to source all our agricultural raw materials sustainably – and good partnerships with suppliers are crucial to achieving this target. Working with partners to manage our supply chain is critical to delivering on our Plan’s goals, and creating a truly sustainable global business. That is why we are setting industry-leading standards for ourselves and for our suppliers – strengthening the foundation upon which we can develop our businesses together.

To support the successful delivery of our Sustainable Living Plan objectives, we have introduced a range of initiatives which have become intrinsic to the way we do business. To fully adhere to these commitments, support from our supplier partners is vital. Through the Unilever Code of Business Principles, we set high standards for our sustainability practices within the company, and we need our partners to adhere to business principles that are consistent with our own.

As a minimum, we encourage and support all our supplier partners in upholding the standards set out in Unilever’s Supplier Code, and seek assurance from our suppliers around the world that their practices meet our guidelines. This is all part of shaping a sustainable value chain.

Supplier Code

We source raw materials and packaging for our production operations from more than 10 000 suppliers. Non-production goods and services come from up to 160 000 businesses. These two groups are the suppliers with whom we have direct business relationships. Managing this supply chain and achieving responsible sourcing standards is inevitably a complex task.

In October 2010, we revised and published Unilever's Supplier Code (formerly known as the Unilever Business Partner Code). The Code, derived from Unilever’s Code of Business Principles, provides the framework through which we set out our approach and our responsible sourcing requirements. It is founded in local laws and internationally accepted norms, to which we request our suppliers’ adherence. The Code addresses the key areas of health and safety at work, business ethics, labour standards, consumer safety and the environment.

The revised Code provides greater clarity on our expectations of our suppliers in the areas of freedom of association, collective bargaining, bribery and corruption. The revision also seeks to extend the sphere of influence of the Code by requiring our direct suppliers to ensure that their direct suppliers also adhere to its principles.

Supplier assurance

We communicate the Code to our direct suppliers and request assurance that they have management systems in place to ensure compliance with our Code’s principles. We may request further verification from suppliers in the form of self-assessments or site audits to identify that operational practices meet the Code’s requirements based on our risk assessment. If the practices do not meet our requirements, we then seek agreement with our suppliers to undertake the necessary actions to achieve compliance.

This work is a continuous process, and we rely on collaboration with our suppliers to make it possible. In cases of non-cooperation or final non-compliance, we will cease doing business with that supplier.

We work with industry peers and use the SEDEX platform to deploy a common approach to supplier assessments that is recognised across our industry. In doing so, the principle of mutual recognition is possible and our suppliers may exchange their assessments with other customers. This will further facilitate a process whereby suppliers can confidently share their audit reports on the principle that ‘an audit for one is an audit for all’, thus reducing unnecessary duplication and complexity. In turn, this will accelerate the process of assessing suppliers and free up resources to focus on implementing improvements within the supply chain.