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Deforestation-free supply chain

Average read time: 11 minutes

We’re working within our business and with external partners to ensure a deforestation-free supply chain, that we support human rights and tackle climate change.

We must end deforestation

Forests are essential to life. They are the lungs of our planet and help to regulate our climate. They are second only to oceans as the largest global store of carbon. As well as being home to up to 80% of land-based wildlife, more than 1 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods.

When forests are cleared, burned or degraded, they leave soils exposed, increasing erosion and the risk of landslides. They also emit carbon dioxide. Estimates show this could account for up to 15% of global carbon emissions – more than the global transport sector.

Yet, by protecting and restoring forests around the world, humanity can achieve around one-fifth of the emissions cuts needed by 2030 to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Mist through a tropical forest

There is a long way to go. Right now, 13 million hectares of forests are being lost every year. And climate change is accelerating the rate of deforestation due to increased forest fires and tropical storms. This is already affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people – causing major setbacks in the fight against poverty.

Protecting our forests is key to fulfilling many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Over 100 countries representing 85% of the planet’s forests signed the pivotal COP26 Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, committing to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.

We are working to end deforestation within our supply chain as this is one of the biggest contributions Unilever can make to create a more sustainable world and maintain consumers' trust in our products.

Deforestation-free supply chain in palm oil, paper and board, tea, soy and cocoa by 2023.

This is one of our Protect and regenerate nature goals

We’ve committed to achieving a deforestation-free supply chain. This means that by the end of 2023, our palm oil, paper and board, tea, soy and cocoa will come from places that are verified as deforestation- and conversion-free.

These commodity supply chains contribute to more than 65% of Unilever’s total impact on land – an agricultural footprint of 3 million hectares – and are the crops that are most often linked to deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems to farmland. We’ve made significant progress in moving our sourcing footprint to areas of lower risk of deforestation, and we’re working towards self-reporting of deforestation-free commodity volumes from 2022 and reporting of fully verified volumes in 2023.

Our plan of action

Our People and Nature Policy outlines how we plan to achieve a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023, focused on three pillars: transparency and traceability, focused sourcing and working with farmers and smallholders.

Transparency and traceability

To make the greatest impact we must focus on generating change at the place where our raw materials are grown – the agricultural origin. That’s why we are concentrating on the critical first mile – from where our commodities are sourced to where they are first processed. Actions we’re taking include:

  • Raw material origins traceability: We’re working with major technology firms and innovative start-ups to get a deep understanding of the impact of our sourcing – particularly that critical first mile, from where the commodity is sourced to where it is first processed.
  • Partnering: We’re using this technology in partnership with our suppliers and industry partners to create more traceable and transparent supply chains.
  • Transparent verification: We’ve created independent verification protocols and piloted these in our sourcing of palm oil, cocoa, and soy.
  • Stronger monitoring and response: digital capabilities are helping us improve how we monitor, predict and respond to situations where deforestation is likely to occur. They help us to identify high-risk areas and act where they’re needed most so we can have the most impact.

Focused sourcing

We’re improving the way we source our raw materials. Actions we’re taking include:

  • Simplifying the way we source: We’re working with and prioritising suppliers who have the same sustainable ambitions as we do. By doing this, we’re developing deeper relationships and getting better visibility of our impact on the ground.
  • Setting clear requirements: We’ve strengthened our contractual framework with key suppliers in palm and soy, so we are working on aligned commitments.Our cross-commodity People and Nature Policy asks our supply chain partners to disclose primary and secondary processing facilities, effectively giving us traceability to where raw materials are grown.
  • Prioritising low-risk sourcing: We’re prioritising sourcing from areas with low risk of deforestation while working in partnership with organisations to protect and regenerate other natural ecosystems.

Working with farmers and smallholders

We're working with industry partners, NGOs and governments to empower farmers and smallholders to protect and regenerate their land and enhance livelihoods. Actions we’re taking include:

  • Improving livelihoods: We're empowering smallholders in our supply chain by supporting livelihood programmes that improve farming operations, increasing productivity, assisting in diversifying income streams, and enabling farmers to have a living income.
  • Regenerating nature: We’re driving the uptake of regenerative agricultural practices and contributing to the restoration of degraded landscapes, particularly by supporting programmes that protect natural ecosystems, such as through Knorr’s 50 regenerative agriculture projects.
  • Raising standards: We’re advocating for the continuous improvement of standards, auditing and assurance systems so we keep pace with increasing requirements for the protection of natural ecosystems and respect of human rights.

Our progress towards a deforestation-free supply chain

We’ve made progress in moving our sourcing footprint to areas of lower risk of deforestation. We want to make sure our goal of a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023 is achieved with integrity and impact, and that’s why we are working to independently verify deforestation-free volumes.

Below we outline the progress we’ve made so far for each commodity.

Deforestation-free palm oil

We have been key players in the drive towards sustainable palm oil for over a decade. Our extensive programme in palm oil aims to transform the industry to protect the forests as well as the livelihoods of those who depend on its production.

This is not something we can do alone. Governments, NGOs and businesses must work together to ensure the palm oil industry finds the right balance between economic, social and environmental objectives. As a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), we have helped to lead efforts to change the way the industry works for over a decade.

We were the first consumer goods company to disclose our supplier and mill lists publicly (PDF 1.38 MB) . We have a grievance procedure and maintain an open list of reported issues online. But we know there’s much more to be done and we must go even further.

We are therefore applying cutting-edge technology solutions to get a clearer view of our supply chain, mapping smallholder’s communities, expanding our direct sourcing programme with independent mills, and investing in landscape approaches to drive impact at speed and scale.

By continuing to work with our stakeholders, we can eliminate deforestation, protect peatlands, support smallholders, and drive positive impacts for people and local communities.

Find out what else we’re doing to help transform the palm oil industry here.

Deforestation-free paper and board

We use paper and board for items like folding cartons, customer packaging, aseptic cartons and ice cream sticks.

Through the Global Traceability Solutions system, we engage all our suppliers with a quarterly questionnaire to collect information on volumes, sustainability status and traceability to the country level. Since 2021, we have also requested mill origin as part of the disclosure, aimed at achieving mill-level traceability for paper and board.

Visit Sustainable and regenerative sourcing for more on sustainable paper and board.

Deforestation-free tea

Tea is a central ingredient for some of our key brands. Our long-standing partnership with the Rainforest Alliance supports smallholder farmers around the world to adopt more sustainable practices, and our project with IDH - The Sustainable Trade Initiative is helping to reverse deforestation and as a result, improve rainfall, to support tea growing. We are a founding member of trustea, a sustainability code for the Indian tea sector.

We took an important step forward in transparency by publishing a list (PDF 493.34 KB) of all our global suppliers of black and green tea. By the end of 2021, 86% of all our tea was sustainably certified by Rainforest Alliance, or trustea verified. For both standards, deforestation is a critical non-conformance and leads to de-certification.

Visit Sustainable and regenerative sourcing for more on sustainable tea.

Deforestation-free soy

Soy oil is a key ingredient in many of our products, like Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Most of the direct soy we use in our products (96%) comes from identified origins at the country level – mainly the US and Latin America.

By the end of 2021, over 93% originated from places with a low risk of deforestation, like the US, or in places that are certified deforestation-free by recognised industry standards with a segregated chain of custody. This number was up from 69% in 2019 and 90% in 2020.

In the US, where most of our soy comes from, we are also working with partners, like Practical Farmers of Iowa, to explore regenerative ways to grow our soy.

In cases where we source from origins with high conversion and deforestation risk, such as Brazil, we use recognised industry standards, such as Proterra, to ensure we source deforestation-free soy.

In 2022 we will begin verifying that our soy supply chain is deforestation and conversion-free through an independent verification process. This means moving from reporting on “low risk” sourcing to “deforestation and conversion free” sourcing. This will happen in line with our 2023 target and via the use of independent verification.

We are working with suppliers to develop joint solutions for deforestation- and conversion-free soy for the remaining part of our soybean oil supply chain from high risk areas and to embed these solutions in contractual commitments to our People and Nature policy.

We are also actively engaging suppliers to improve the traceability and transparency to farm. We recently entered into a partnership agreement with CJ Selecta aiming to work with their suppliers to increase traceability in the SC and achieve a fully deforestation free facility for our volumes in Brazil.

Unilever recognises partnerships play a key role in transforming the industry. We are a founding member of the Round Table on Responsible Soy and a signatory of the Cerrado Manifesto (Opens in a new window), which calls for a halt to deforestation and native vegetation loss in Brazil's Cerrado.

We also work with partners on the ground, like Aliança da Terra, to promote the production of deforestation-free soy in Southern Cerrado via the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) certification. In 2021, this programme has resulted in over 85,000 hectares of sustainably managed lands, including more than 16,000 hectares of protected native vegetation and the restoration of around 1,075 hectares of degraded land with native vegetation.

We believe transparency is essential to a more sustainable supply chain. Our 2021 soybean suppliers (PDF 129.49 KB) list gives details of our direct suppliers, accounting for more than 99.9% of our soy oil purchases.

Visit Sustainable and regenerative sourcing for more on our approach to sustainable soy.

Deforestation-free cocoa

We buy around 1.5% of the global production of cocoa, mainly sourced from Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.

Partnerships and collaborations are an essential part of our approach. In particular, we work with suppliers through long-standing certification schemes, like Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade, to help manage risk and to audit our suppliers to monitor compliance.

In addition, we partnered with 35 other companies as part of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative to end deforestation and restore forest areas. To build on this commitment, we have already mapped 87% or 25,006 farm plots linked to 20,821 farmers in our direct cocoa supply chain (PDF 96.56 KB) together with our suppliers, to improve traceability and better understand where our cocoa comes from. This mapping will enable us to better define deforestation risk and to identify issues on the ground that require remediation.

Visit Sustainable and regenerative sourcing for more on our approach to sustainable cocoa.

Dealing with grievances

We want to be the first to know and act when issues like deforestation are identified within our supply chain. If you have a palm oil grievance, you can email us at feedback.palmoil@unilever.com.

We monitor our supply chain via a regular Deforestation and Burnt Area Monitoring Report through our partnership with Aidenvironment, and we made a recent investment to support the earlier detection of deforestation using radar detection, which will be made publicly available through WRI’s Global Forest Watch platform.

We suspend suppliers who are found to be linked to deforestation. If they later succeed in meeting our requirements, we will give them the opportunity to join our supplier list again in the future.

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