Scaling up our efforts
In 2014, we formalised our commitment to advancing human rights across our value chain under the Enhancing Livelihoods pillar of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Since then, we have significantly scaled up our efforts.
We became the first company to adopt the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, the world’s first comprehensive guidance for businesses to report on how they are implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. And we are the first company to produce a detailed, standalone report using the framework.
The report – Enhancing Livelihoods, Advancing Human Rights – outlines our goal not only to respect human rights but to actively advance them across all areas of the business. It describes how we are embedding respect for human rights in everything we do and highlights key areas of progress, including Unilever’s work to empower women, our progress in the fight against sexual harassment, and addressing health and safety issues across the supply chain.
It also describes key areas of focus for the future, which include human rights issues beyond first-tier suppliers, working conditions for migrant labour and continuing collaboration with other organisations in order to influence systemic change.
Much to gain if we succeed
The need to act cannot be in doubt because business can only flourish in societies in which human rights are respected and upheld. But the challenges are enormous. We have operations in more than 190 countries, each with their own cultural norms, varying levels of the rule of law and divergent views on what it means to respect human rights. This ecosystem comprises parts we control and parts we can only influence. We employ 172,000 people but many millions play a role in our value chain.
Marcela Manubens, Global VP, Social Impact, and author of the report, says: “At Unilever, we embrace challenges of this nature because we know that, as much as we stand to lose if we get it wrong, we have even more to gain if we succeed. Our ambition is to embed the promotion of human rights into every function, every role, and every corner of our organisation.”
Redoubling our efforts
This year is shaping up to be a momentous one, with the work being done to advance the post-2015 development agenda and the prospect of a global climate agreement in Paris. Human rights are inextricably linked to both because the effects of climate change threaten all humans, with expected impacts hitting the poorest people and communities the hardest.
As CEO Paul Polman says: “It feels fitting that this is the moment we’ve chosen to outline our path forward. We now need to take what we’ve learned and redouble our efforts to embed the promotion of human rights into the fabric of our business.”
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