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Unilever calls on industry associations to step up climate efforts

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Authored by Rebecca Marmot

As we release our first Climate Policy Engagement Review, Unilever’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Rebecca Marmot, reveals why we are calling on industry associations to get more actively engaged in climate advocacy.

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About the author

Rebecca Marmot

Rebecca Marmot

Chief Sustainability Officer

Rebecca is responsible for driving Unilever’s overall sustainability strategy and transformational change in priority areas for the USLP and Compass, such as climate change, the circular economy and opportunities for women.

Governments, industry associations, businesses and civil society must work together to prevent further climate breakdown and create the conditions needed for a just transition to a low-carbon economy.

At Unilever, we’ve taken strides in our own operations, lowering emissions by over two-thirds since 2015, but we know we need to act well beyond our factory walls.

For Unilever to deliver on our climate goals, we need supporting government action. Strong climate policies will help create the right environment for businesses to act at speed and scale. They are also vital for the wider global transition to net zero. This is why we advocate and lobby for policies that advance the goal of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5°C. But one business, no matter how big, cannot drive change alone.

Supporting the Paris Agreement requires more than warm words

For our advocacy to be effective, we need to be supported by other powerful actors that governments will listen to, including industry associations. In our first Climate Policy Engagement Review (PDF 1.39 MB), we have explored the role industry associations can play in helping shape climate policy, with a specific focus on their alignment with Unilever’s own advocacy work.

Our independent review assessed 27 of the associations we work with, looking at their positions and statements, but also – critically – at their public record of activity in 2022 and 2023. It is no longer good enough for industry groups to simply say they are Paris Agreement aligned; words must be matched with action. We also hold ourselves to account, publishing a list of engagement activities that Unilever carried out directly with governments across our top markets.

Our research shows industry associations have room to improve

We found that, although 18 industry associations were aligned with all of Unilever’s climate policy positions, eight of them have no public record of meaningful engagement with governments, and a further four have low engagement.

We also found that eight industry associations were misaligned with Unilever in one or more of our priority policy areas. This is a concern. But it’s also a reflection of the reality that in many cases industry associations are juggling competing internal and external pressures, which often results in a ‘lowest common denominator’ outcome, something we explore in the review.

Associations can be powerful agents of change, but some are passive at best, or a hindrance at worse. These associations can and should do better and we want to make sure those we’re working with address this.

Using our voice to make others use theirs

In the review, we outline actions we will take to address misalignment and highlight some we’ve already taken. These include working with industry associations to ensure they revisit climate policy positions, establish climate subcommittees and step up transparency around lobbying activity.

We know that becoming fully aligned will not be straightforward, but over the next 12 months we will focus our attention on the practical and realistic actions associations can take. We want our associations to be catalysts for positive policy change, and if they can’t, then we reserve the right to withdraw our membership fees.

This is only the beginning. Unilever is a member of over 600 industry groups, coalitions and trade bodies. While not all of them are relevant to the climate debate, our ambition is to have full alignment from those that matter and we intend to update this review annually, so that we can track our progress.

Just as our Climate Transition Action Plan represents our commitment to accountability and scrutiny, we need to extend the same level of transparency to our relationships with industry associations. We hope this combination of constructive partnerships and increased scrutiny will not only support Unilever in achieving its climate goals but also create a ripple effect for other companies working in this area.

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