Our position on
Our Code of Business Principles commits us to running our operations with honesty, integrity and openness. Our approach is always to understand issues of concern and respond.
To find out more about some of the topics we are asked about most, please select from the list below.
We use advertising and marketing as a way to engage with consumers on topics that matter to them. Marketing and advertising have many benefits. They help us tell people about our latest innovations, inform consumers about what’s in our products and recommend how they should be used. They can even help us change society for the better: Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, for example, challenges stereotypes about the way people look.
However, the very power of marketing communications means that they must be used responsibly. We have signed up to, and helped to define, global standards for the industry, centred on the promise that our advertising and marketing will always be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”.
Independently, we have also made landmark decisions about our own practices. For example, we have a solid set of principles when communicating to children about our food & beverage products and we never use ‘size zero’ models in our advertising.
We use science, not animals, to make sure that our products are safe for people and for the planet. Unilever has been developing and using non-animal safety science since the 1980s, and thanks to a wide range of modern, scientific alternatives, animal testing is not needed to assess the safety of our products.
Our leading-edge approach has one clear purpose: to continue to collaborate with other global leaders in developing and applying new science and technology to guarantee that our products are safe, without the need for animal testing.
We’re proud that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) lists Unilever as a ‘company working for regulatory change’ in recognition of our ongoing work on alternatives to animal testing and our commitment to promoting their adoption worldwide.
Information about our research strategy and partners is available on our Safety Science in the 21st Century website.
Biofuels are fuels derived from biological material such as trees, grass, agricultural waste, or organic municipal waste. They can appear to be an attractive solution in the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, but a widespread shift to biofuels could have unintended consequences around food security or deforestation. The next step in Unilever’s plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from its operations is to address heating sources (natural gas-burning boilers) across our manufacturing sites. Long term, we aim to use zero carbon technologies such as ground or air source heat pumps powered by renewable electricity or green hydrogen.
Where these technologies are currently unviable or unavailable, we believe that limited use of biofuels can be acceptable, if used judiciously and with appropriate safeguards. To guide our business in its responsible use of biofuels as transition fuels for thermal energy, we have defined six guiding principles.
We are working with bioplastics suppliers to find sustainable forms of packaging that do not threaten food stocks.
Bioplastics are plant-based plastics made largely from staple food stocks, such as sugar beet and corn starch. We are concerned that the rising demand for bioplastics could lead to food scarcity or higher prices. Reducing, reusing and recycling packaging waste, including plastics, is one of the key Unilever Sustainable Living Plan priorities.
We believe bioplastics should have a comparable or better impact on the environment than petroleum-based plastic, and should not compromise recycling processes by contaminating traditional materials. We are working with the bioplastics industry to explore new technologies and materials that are sustainably sourced and which reflect social, economic and environmental factors. We are also on the steering team of the World Wildlife Fund-led Bio Feedstock Alliance, which encourages the sustainable development of bioplastics.
Biotechnology can be described as the application of biological systems to develop ingredients and products. We believes that biotechnology offers important opportunities to help us meet our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan commitments both in sustainable sourcing of ingredients and the development of innovative products which offer benefits to our consumers. We have been safely using biotechnology in our Homecare business for decades and more recently started using algal oil in our Personal Care soap bars.
Our approach to biotechnology reflects the way we use science and innovation responsibly to drive sustainable living. Here we outline our position on Biotechnology with respect to production of new ingredients and products in a contained and controlled process through fermentation. Our position on the use of GMOs and genetically modified crops can be accessed separately.
Climate change is a growing concern for our business and for the people we serve.
Left unchecked, it will not only disrupt agricultural value chains, threaten food security and increase water scarcity – with catastrophic consequences for millions – but also act as a downward force on global growth.
The business benefits of climate action are clear. By proactively cutting our greenhouse gases, we are reducing our operational costs and exposure to increasing environmental regulation and taxes. We are also improving resilience in our supply chain and becoming a more future-fit business.
Businesses, governments, cities, states and regions must show continued leadership on climate action – setting ambitious net zero targets and implementing short-term emissions reduction targets. They must also focus on supporting policy reforms that accelerate progress, levelling the playing field for renewable energy, promoting sustainable land use and encouraging capital flow to more sustainable investments.
We aim to not use conflict minerals from any conflict-affected or high-risk areas, including from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and adjoining countries that have been mined in support of armed conflict, in any products. Conflict-affected or high-risk areas include areas in a state of armed conflict or fragile post-conflict, those witnessing weak or non-existent governance and security or widespread violations of international law including human rights abuses. Our suppliers may continue to source minerals from these regions so long as they follow applicable laws and these minerals are sourced from mines or smelters that are verified as conflict-free.
Under certain US and EU regulations, companies are required to report whether they import conflict minerals or if their products contain conflict minerals, such as tin or gold, from the conflict-affected or high-risk areas, which in particular include the Democratic Republic of the Congo or its adjoining countries, and to enhance supply chain transparency by taking appropriate risk assessment and management measures.
We buy raw materials from thousands of sources to supply Unilever factories based in more than 100 countries. We have conducted in-depth reviews of our suppliers and their supply chain and have found no indication that any of these minerals have originated from a relevant country, except from a smelter independently certified as conflict free. Our Responsible Sourcing Policy also covers compliance with international trade regulations, including those relating to sanctions, export controls and reporting requirements.
We are in a climate emergency and deforestation is a big part of the problem – both contributing to climate change and damaging the planet’s resilience to it. But forests have the potential to be an even bigger part of the solution. Reducing emissions from deforestation is essential to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, and ensuring healthy forests contributes to the achievement of many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Unilever is committed to achieving a deforestation and conversion-free supply chain by 2023.
We’ve been at the forefront of efforts to tackle commodity-driven deforestation and, over the last 10 years, have made significant progress towards our sustainable sourcing goals – but we agree there is more to do. And so we are. Our People and Nature Policy, launched in the end of 2020, sets ambitious new requirements to our suppliers, including seeks to eliminate deforestation for the following high-risk crops in our supply chain: cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, soy and tea.
By working together with suppliers and wider supply chain participants, we will pilot and implement best management practices and toolkits to ensure the entire supply chain for our five key commodities is deforestation and conversion free by 2023.
We take animal welfare very seriously as a number of our products include ingredients from animals, such as the eggs in mayonnaise, dairy products in ice cream and meat in bouillons and soups. Animal welfare is one of Unilever’s core sustainable agriculture indicators and is part of our Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC). In addition, we have a number of position statements of specific animal welfare issues.
We believe good farm animal welfare addresses topics such as housing and stocking density, hygiene, feeding and feed, water supply, health management and the responsible use of antibiotics, the avoidance of mutilations, transport, traceability and slaughtering methods. We require our suppliers to comply with legal requirements and we help them to improve their performance in order to meet our specific ambitions, for example, cage free eggs and sustainable dairy. Unilever will report on a regular basis about the standards used for our animal-derived ingredients and the progress made on our ambitions.
We support responsible use of science and technology in agriculture as it may help meet long-term food needs more sustainably.
Genetically modified (GM) crops are widely used by farmers in many countries. There is a broad scientific consensus that currently marketed GM crops and food ingredients produced from them are safe for people and the environment. However, GM crops and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) prompt lively debate and views differ from country to country.
Our commitment to safety, quality and sustainable agriculture covers all our food ingredients, whether from conventional crops or GM crops authorised by regulatory bodies. Where feasible we offer products that meet the preference for foods that do not use ingredients from GM crops. We also support the provision of information to consumers who want to know about the use of ingredients produced from GM crops.
The human body contains trillions of micro-organisms. They are present all over the body including on the skin and in the digestive system. The collection of these organisms is called the microbiome and it is unique to each of us.
The microbiome is an exciting area of scientific discovery and understanding. A balanced microbiome containing a diversity of organisms helps to maintain health and is essential for human development, immunity, health and wellbeing. Each of our individual microbiomes adapts throughout our lifetime and people can achieve a healthy microbiome in different ways.
We are committed to ensuring that human rights are respected, upheld and advanced across our operations and value chain, wherever we do business.
We respect all internationally recognised human rights that are relevant to our operations. We prohibit discrimination, forced, trafficked and child labour. We are committed to safe and healthy working conditions, the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and to effective information and consultation procedures. We expect our partners to adhere to business principles consistent with our own. We recognise the importance of dialogue with employees, workers and external stakeholders who are, or could potentially be, affected by our actions.
We continue to build our employees’ and workers’ awareness and knowledge of human rights, encouraging them to speak up, without retribution, about any concerns they may have, including through our grievance channels. We continually evaluate and review how best to strengthen our approach to addressing human rights.
Unilever has been growing tea in Kenya since 1924. The estate in Kericho covers over 8,700 hectares and is Rainforest Alliance certified. Unilever offers many benefits including housing, free health care, nursery and primary school education, clean potable drinking water and free meals during working hours. As with any society where work and private lives are tightly intertwined, there are particular challenges that we are working hard to address.
In 2013 allegations of sexual harassment of female workers were investigated and an independent review made six recommendations, which were fully accepted and implemented immediately.
Progress is monitored monthly by our Leadership Team and has focused on prevention through increased education and awareness whilst improving grievance and reporting procedures.
In 2001, after becoming aware of an environmental breach at our former factory in Kodaikanal, we took swift action.
Glass scrap with residual mercury was sold to a local scrap dealer, in breach of guidelines. We immediately closed the factory and retrieved glass scrap with residual mercury and soil from the scrap yard.
In 2003, we sent all mercury-bearing material to the US for recycling. In 2006, plant, machinery and materials used in thermometer manufacturing were decontaminated and disposed of to industrial recyclers. An independent environmental impact and risk assessment commissioned by us concluded that there was no adverse impact on the environment in Kodaikanal, except in some areas of the factory premises.
Several expert studies have been conducted since the factory’s closure and all have concluded that our former employees did not suffer ill-health due to the nature of their work. In 2016 we reached a settlement with our former workers on a humanitarian basis at the suggestion of the Madras High Court – putting an end to a matter which had been outstanding since a petition was filed in 2006.
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic which can end up in the ocean, potentially causing damage to the environment. Most come from the breakdown of larger plastics in water, but some can come from their use in consumer and industrial products.
We recognise there is growing concern on the potential environmental impact of microplastics. That’s why we are always innovating and looking for ways to improve our packaging and formulations to ensure we protect the planet and our aquatic ecosystems.
Our journey started in 2014, when we were one of the first companies to stop using small plastic scrub beads as an exfoliator in some face and body scrubs.
Six years on, and as part of our commitment to fighting climate change and protecting nature, we are focusing on making our formulations in our home, beauty and personal care products products biodegradable by 2030.
To reach our goal of using only sustainably grown raw materials, we minimise use of pesticides.
Our priority is to provide safe products that meet consumer preferences. Pesticides can help defend against harmful insects, weeds and diseases but we recognise concerns about their potential effects. In line with our Sustainable Agriculture Code, we limit the use of pesticides via integrated pest management (IPM). IPM uses a range of different ways to control pests, including mechanical, physical, biological and cultural methods.
We also work with independent certification agencies for sustainable agricultural practices, such as the Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. These always require curbs on pesticides. We also monitor pesticide residues in the raw materials we buy and work with suppliers to ensure they meet regulations. For more details about how we use pesticides when growing tea and tomatoes, see:
According to WWF, nature underpins all global economic activity. But IPBES estimates that the huge biodiversity losses already happening are putting a million species at risk of extinction and making 80% of the UN Sustainable Development Goals potentially unachievable.
It’s a crisis that equals – possibly even surpasses – climate change.
Protecting and restoring biodiversity can unleash new economic opportunities. Regenerative agriculture, for example, can increase biodiversity, enrich soils and enhance ecosystems.
Our largest impact on biodiversity is through agricultural sourcing. Farming – and the livelihoods of farmers and their communities – is dependent on the ecosystems in which crops are grown.
Conserving and restoring these ecosystems protects the supply of ingredients on which our brands depend and helps the societies and economies with which we do business to thrive.
Furthermore, limiting average global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C, in accordance with the Paris Agreement, will be impossible without nature-based solutions, such as the restoration of forests and carbon-rich peatlands.
We are leaders in ‘nutrient profiling’ – that is, evaluating the nutritional content of food and drink.
Understanding the nutrient levels in our products is vital for our business. Consumers rely on pack labels to help them make healthy choices and we need to know nutrient levels to assist with product reformulation and for marketing and advertising our products. There is no global standard for agreeing nutrient profiles. Different schemes are being set up around the world.
In 2003, we developed our own global principles on nutrient profiling – aiming to make sure that what we do is based on sound science. As part of these principles, we seek to reflect international guidelines, while taking into account how people eat around the world. We aim to encourage innovation and food reformulation but focus on the key nutrients of concern in our products such as sugar, salt, and saturated and trans fats.
We’ve developed a clear and global approach to nutrition labelling, to help people make healthy food choices.
Clear nutrition labelling is a vital part of the fight against obesity and other dietary-related chronic diseases. We are transparent about the nutritional composition of our products, enabling consumers to make better informed choices. That’s why we’ve developed a global approach to nutrition labelling, as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.
We provide details about the ‘Big 8’ nutrients (energy, protein, carbohydrates, sugars, fat, saturated fat, fibre, sodium or salt, and nutrients for which a claim is made) on the back of most packs – along with an energy icon on the front. Our products in Europe and the US carry full nutritional information and we are committed to extend this to all our products globally. In many countries, our labelling exceeds legal requirements. We also publish nutritional details via websites and consumer care lines.
Plastic belongs inside the circular economy where it is kept in a loop to stop it from ever finding its way into the environment. This way of thinking is changing the way we’re acting.
By 2025, we will: halve the amount of virgin, unrecycled plastic we use, and as part of that we’ll get rid of more than 100,000 tonnes of plastic packaging; work with our partners to help collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell; ensure that 100% of our plastic packaging is designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable; and increase the use of post-consumer recycled plastic material in our packaging to at least 25%.
Unilever believes that a profitable and sustainable palm oil sector must find the right balance between social, environmental and economic objectives. This is a shared responsibility between governments, the private sector and civil society. This is why Unilever has been at the forefront of driving a sustainable palm oil industry as part of our commitment to eliminate deforestation from our supply chain by 2023 and respect and promote human rights.
We’re committed to sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil and, against the commitments set out in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, have reached 99.6% sustainable palm oil.
Transparency is key to achieving the transformation our industry requires. We were the first consumer goods company to publicly disclose the palm oil suppliers and mills we source from, both directly and indirectly, and we publish a grievance report so that issues, such as deforestation, and the action being taken to address them, are shared publicly.
We’re now going further by investing in emerging technologies such as satellites, geolocation, blockchain and artificial intelligence to trace our crops from their source and are working with major technology firms and start-ups to develop new approaches from which the whole industry can benefit. We're also redesigning our sourcing network so that 70% of the palm oil that we buy today will shift from 1600 palm oil mills to around 400 palm oil mills. This is equivalent to repositioning 700,000 hectares of our footprint from higher risk to low risk landscapes.
Poverty is one of the biggest and most complex problems our world currently faces. We need bold action to end it. That’s why in 2015, we publicly backed the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals addressing poverty, hunger and climate change.
Where people are suffering, we can use our scale for good. Sometimes this is in the form of donations or emergency programmes. One example is our response to the coronavirus pandemic, where we put in place measures to protect lives and livelihoods around the world.
Many of our brands also carry out vital work to help people in need. Domestos has worked with UNICEF to tackle sanitation issues, helping 28 million people gain improved access to a toilet. The Right To Shower donates 30% of its profits so that homeless people can access a shower. Ben & Jerry’s has launched Together for Refugees in partnership with the International Rescue Committee.
It’s crucial we don’t lose sight of the issues that fuel inequality, and that we collaborate with others to change the systems that contribute to extreme poverty. This includes recognising what we can do to enhance smallholder farmers’ livelihoods, transform global food systems, advance diversity and inclusion, solve chronic malnutrition and promote economic inclusion.
Our products are designed and manufactured to be safe for their intended use.
Unilever’s Code of Business Principles sets out our commitment to provide products and services that are safe and to innovate based on sound science. We have mandatory policies and standards in place to ensure that we meet this commitment. Safety and quality are an important and integral part of our product design.
Our Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre works with teams across Unilever to assess the safety and environmental sustainability of our products and manufacturing processes. We use internationally recognised external certification standards across our entire supply chain to ensure our management and control processes are robust. We monitor and track consumer and customer feedback and act swiftly to address potential product quality or safety issues. Such instances are investigated fully to establish the root cause, with learnings shared globally to prevent recurrence.
We never use embryonic stem cells and all our stem cell research meets the highest ethical and regulatory standards.
Stem cells are indefinitely self-renewing and able to differentiate into many different types of cells. Stem cell technology has the potential to offer treatments for conditions such as leukaemia and tissue damage, as well as offering health and beauty benefits. Stem cells are also important research tools used to model aspects of human biology.
We want to develop personal care products that bring real health and beauty benefits to our consumers, and work in partnership with leading scientific experts to investigate the potential applications of stem cell technology. We support research with adult human stem cells and plant stem cells only, never stem cells taken from embryos. All our research is conducted responsibly, and in full compliance with the highest safety, ethical, legal and regulatory standards.
To help people eat healthily, we are significantly reducing the amount of salt in our products.
A diet containing excess salt (sodium) can lead to raised blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The World Health Organization recommends adults limit their daily salt intake to 5g. We believe we have a responsibility to offer healthy eating choices, and by the end of 2010 had met our target of decreasing salt levels to enable daily intakes of 6g.
As part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we are cutting levels still further, by enhancing taste with other, healthier ingredients such as herbs and spices, and by using salt substitutes such as potassium salt. As a result, in 2016, 61% of our Foods portfolio already have salt levels that enable a daily intake of 5g. In the near future, we plan to reduce salt levels in even more of our products.
We are significantly reducing the amount of saturated fats in our products, and increasing the amount of healthy unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fats, found in nuts, seeds, fish and vegetable oil-based spreads, are good for us, but too much saturated fat – found mostly in dairy and meat products – is a risk factor for heart disease. We believe we have a responsibility to offer healthy eating choices to our consumers.
As part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we are committed to reducing saturated fats as much as possible and increasing levels of good unsaturated fats, without compromising on taste and quality.
Robust and high-quality science is key to understanding how Unilever’s products can benefit consumers and make a positive impact on both society and the environment.
Investing in science with objectivity and integrity is important to build our knowledge and understanding of how Nutrition, Ice Cream, Homecare, Beauty & Wellbeing and Personal Care products can benefit public health and wellbeing and improve the environmental, social and economic impact of our products.
The world of scientific research is collaborative and we increasingly work with external partners, often in multi-stakeholder partnerships. We are committed to transparency with our collaborations and research findings. Whether conducting research internally or externally, we always adhere to robust standards and hold our R&D leaders accountable for ensuring these are applied.
These science standards form a key foundation to Unilever’s approach to Responsible Innovation and are intrinsically linked to Unilever’s business values.
We’re cutting the level of sugar in many products, to help towards improving consumers’ health.
Many people enjoy the sweet taste that sugar brings. It also gives texture, structure, flavour and colour to many products, as well as helping to preserve them. However, health authorities recommend people limit their sugar consumption to reduce the risk of excessive energy intake, as this can lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan therefore includes firm sugar and calorie reduction targets in products ranging from our ready-to-drink teas to our ice creams. We focus on beverages and ice creams because that is where we can have the biggest impact and so make the greatest contribution to public health. Of course, our products need to meet consumers’ acceptance for sweetness. That’s why, in many products, we use approved low-calorie sweeteners to fully or partially replace sugar.
We believe sustainable farming is the best way forward to meet the world’s demand for food.
The global population is growing fast; so fast, in fact, that by 2030 as much as 50% more food will need to be produced. Yet climate change, water shortages and biofuel demands are all putting pressure on food resources. That’s why we’re working with our supply chain partners to promote sustainable farming.
As part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we aim to source all our agricultural materials sustainably, without increasing costs to the consumer. We are focusing first on our main crops, such as palm oil, tea, soy and sugar. We plan to put a stop to deforestation, to help fight climate change, which is damaging to farming communities. At the same time, we aim to champion smallholder farmers – to help produce enough food and lift people out of poverty.
As one of the world’s largest food producers, we are committed to playing a part in helping to tackle obesity.
More than 1.9 billion adults – 39% of the global population – are overweight and 13% are obese. This obesity epidemic must be addressed. There is no one solution but evidence shows that solutions need to be holistic and take a multi-stakeholder approach with governments, NGOs, civil society and business working together to deliver a robust programme of interventions at country level.
We have a multi-faceted approach based on: reformulating our products, by reducing levels of sugar and calories in certain products; providing clear nutrition labelling, so that consumers can make informed food choices; offering lower and zero calorie choices to consumers and encouraging them to eat and live healthily; responsible marketing for all ages but especially towards children, and encouraging the wider food industry to establish global best practice.
The tax we pay plays a key part in our wider economic impact and in developing the countries where we operate.
We are supportive of international tax reform and believe public trust in national tax systems is essential. We have published a set of global tax principles covering such issues as transfer pricing, use of tax havens and relationships with tax authorities that represent good corporate practice in the area of tax management and transparency. They also balance the interests of our various stakeholders, including consumers, investors and the governments and communities in the countries in which we operate.
Our commercial activity generates considerable tax income for the governments in countries in which we operate. In 2020, we paid €1.9 billion in corporate taxes. In addition, we pay and collect numerous other taxes, such as employee taxes, sales taxes, and customs duties.
To help promote heart health, we are removing trans fats from our products.
There are two kinds of trans fats: one type occurs naturally in butter, cheese and some meat, and the other is created during food production when vegetable oils are ‘partially hydrogenated’ to turn them into solid fats. Both kinds adversely affect blood cholesterol.
The World Health Organization says consumers should limit their levels of trans fats, and manufacturers should not use them in foods. We have been reducing our use of trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVO) for 20 years. In 2010, as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we committed to stop using them. By September 2012, 100% of our Nutrition & Icecream portfolio by volume did not contain trans fats originating from PHVO. We support health initiatives to reduce intake of trans fats.
William Lever (1851–1925) was one of Unilever’s founders and a widely recognised industrial reformer. He did much to drive progress on women’s rights, workers’ wellbeing, and other social causes. His progressive values set the foundations for our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion in our own business and the communities we serve.
The origin of William Lever’s business, called Lever Brothers, was soap, which is made in part from palm oil. To obtain a secure supply of the oil, Lever’s Pacific Plantations was formed in 1902 in the Solomon Islands. In 1911, they also started sourcing palm oil in what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo, through a company called Les Huileries du Congo Belge (HCB).
Although HCB was set up three years after the despotic regime of King Leopold II in Congo had ended in 1908, the country was still in a terrible state. William Lever had earned a good reputation for looking after those who worked for him in England. But the practices of HCB in Congo did not match this. Despite his explicit instructions that workers be well treated and paid fairly, there is evidence of illegal use of forced labour and other mistreatments. It appears Lever was subsequently aware of the use of forced labour in Congo, and it is unclear how forcefully he tried to stop this.
We abhor any and all forms of racism, discrimination or worker abuse. The fact that such behaviours occurred in a different age does not excuse them – we deeply regret this part of our history.
It is currently difficult for us to say exactly how much William Lever benefited from these activities. To ensure we can tell a truthful and balanced story about his legacy, we have commissioned researchers to investigate the history of the Lever companies in Solomon Islands and Democratic Republic of the Congo. An Independent Panel will oversee the research work to ensure it is accurate and transparent and, once completed, we will publish the panel’s findings.