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Human rights are everyone’s business

For Human Rights Day 2015, we’re exploring the eight fundamental issues that matter to our business.

How’s your day been so far? Nothing out of the ordinary? Got out of bed? Had a shower? Eaten breakfast? Taken the kids to school? Had a meeting, made some points for and against a project? Got down to business as usual? Not much to do with human rights – right? Wrong. You’ve already exercised Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 16, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25 and 26 of the International Declaration of Human Rights.

“Our ambition,” says Marcela Manubens, Global Vice President, Social Impact, “is to embed the respect and promotion of human rights into every function, every role, and every corner of our organisation.”

To celebrate Human Rights Day, we’re highlighting eight human rights issues we identified as a priority (PDF | 5MB)* and are committed to addressing across Unilever. Human rights are also an integral part of the 17 UN Global Goals launched in September.

Three ways we’re making a difference

Providing childcare to keep mothers in the workforce in Ghana

  • Creating a childcare centre at Tema in Ghana has “built a great workforce that is focused, productive and committed for the long haul,” says Maidie Arkutu, MD of Unilever Ghana.

Tackling harassment to make workers feel less vulnerable in Malaysia

  • At one of our suppliers in Malaysia, staff were conducting pat down searches to prevent workers from bringing their mobile phones into production areas. We notified the supplier, the searches stopped, and we helped the supplier to hold training for managers to help them understand why this practice was unacceptable.

Helping to alleviate long working hours in Thailand

  • In one of our packaging supplier’s factories in Thailand we found workers were working eight consecutive days. We asked the supplier to put in place a remediation plan. Three months on we were able to confirm that workers had at least one day off every seven days.

The 8 Human Rights issues

1. Discrimination

We want everyone to work in an environment that promotes diversity and where there is no discrimination or victimisation, for example because of sexual orientation. In our goal to promote women’s empowerment we support the UN HeForShe campaign to help achieve gender equality in the workplace

2. Fair wages

Figures from the World Bank show nearly half of world’s population live on less than US$2.50 a day. We‘re creating a global Framework for Fair Compensation and benchmarking entry-level wages against external fair wage indicators. Our Responsible Sourcing Policy also asks our suppliers to move towards a living wage approach.

3. Forced labour

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labour around the world. This can take many forms – from migrant workers on palm oil plantations in Malaysia to slaves on fishing boats around Thailand. As stated in our Code Policies, we have zero tolerance of forced labour and human trafficking. We support the Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity.

4. Freedom of association

Freedom of association gives you the right to join – or not join – a legally recognised trade union or other body representing collective interests. We’ve established a global forum on labour rights with the International Union of Food workers (IUF) and IndustriALL to identify, discuss and address issues and geographies of concern.

5. Harassment

Harassment can take many forms – verbal or physical, occurring only once or persisting over time. It is a form of discrimination and has no place in our business, as we state in the Code of Business Principles and other Code Policies. We also have locally issued policies locally covering sexual harassment, child protection and violence prevention.

6. Health and safety

Every single day, 6,400 people die from an occupational accident or disease, according to the ILO and as much as 4% of global gross domestic product is lost annually due to costs related to lost working time. We’ve created safety committees at each of our sites and provide tools and training to help employees adopt safe behaviours.

7. Land rights

75% of the world’s poor live in rural areas where land is a fundamental asset and a primary source of income, security, opportunity and status. However, 65% of the world’s land is held under customary – rather than legal – systems. We are creating a new Global Land Rights Policy which will include principles and due diligence applicable to all our operations, suppliers and business partners. We’re also committed to zero tolerance for land grabbing.

8. Working hours

Studies show that working long hours can increase the risk of depression and heart disease and affect our ability to work safely, for example in factories. We are all at risk of this which is why we have made health and wellbeing a priority for our business and why we are also working with our suppliers on this issue.

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