Sustainable and regenerative sourcing
Average read time: 23 minutes
We're working with farmers and suppliers to drive up social and environmental standards in our supply chain.
The raw materials that make brands loved by billions
Around 3.4 billion people use our products every day – that’s around a third of the people on the planet. We use many different raw materials to make our products – and millions of people play an important role in providing them. Securing a sustainable supply of these materials is fundamental to the future growth of our business and achieving our ambition to deliver positive impact.
Our approach to sustainable and regenerative sourcing
Our approach has four main strands:
- sustainably sourcing to the highest standards from our network of suppliers
- driving change through the continuous improvement of our policies with suppliers
- playing a leading role in the transformation of agricultural sectors relevant to our business
- communicating to consumers about sustainable sourcing through our brands
The Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) (PDF 7.88MB) and the Unilever Regenerative Agriculture Principles (RAPs) (PDF 8.34MB) provide the basis for our sustainable sourcing programme.
The SAC is a collection of best practice principles for farming that hundreds of thousands of farmers have used since 2010 to make their operations more sustainable. But despite years of implementation, the SAC has not been enough for us to solve all the sustainability challenges in our agricultural supply chain – from decline in soil health to biodiversity loss. We recognised a need to go further.
This is why in April 2021 we introduced the Unilever Regenerative Agriculture Principles (RAPS) (PDF 8.34MB), which provide guidance on how to nourish the soil, capture carbon and restore and regenerate the land. We aim for these to inspire our business, divisions, brands, our suppliers and peers – and form the basis for regenerative programmes for ingredients in our supply chain.
Our Responsible Sourcing Policy
The Unilever Responsible Sourcing Policy
Our Responsible Sourcing Policy (RSP) (PDF 8.25MB) embodies our commitment to conduct business with integrity, openness and respect for universal human rights and core labour principles.
The RSP sets mandatory requirements on human and labour rights for suppliers who have a business relationship with Unilever. It sets out our 12 Fundamental Principles and defines the mandatory requirements that suppliers must achieve to do business with Unilever.
Making progress through partnerships
Our partnerships take a range of forms. For example, we’ve worked with a range of stakeholders to help develop internationally-recognised standards and verification systems like the Rainforest Alliance, The Round Table on Responsible Soy and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). We also work with farmers and suppliers, and with consumers to stimulate demand for sustainably sourced ingredients.
Wherever possible, we’re seeking to move to have better visibility on the ground, which gives us and our stakeholders added confidence that the crops in our supply chain are sustainably grown.
Sustainable palm oil
The palm oil industry has a number of sustainability challenges that, as founding members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), we have been working for a number of years to address.
As a major palm oil buyer, we have a key role to play in transforming the industry to stop deforestation, improve transparency and traceability, and support and enable farmers – especially smallholders – to adopt more sustainable practices.
Visit our palm oil section to find out how we are working to make sustainable palm oil commonplace.
Our research shows that consumers prefer products made with sustainable oils – so sourcing our oils sustainably can help grow our business as well as reduce our impacts on the environment.
Soy oil is a crucial ingredient in our brands, such as Hellmann’s mayonnaise, enjoyed by consumers the world over.
We believe transparency is essential to a more sustainable supply chain. Our published supplier list (PDF 129KB) gives details of our direct suppliers, accounting for more than 99.9% of our soy oil purchases. Most of the soy oil we buy comes from soybeans grown in the US and Brazil. In each region, we work with farmers, NGOs, our suppliers, other agri-businesses and governments. We also aim to contribute to the development of international standards which recognise farmers and suppliers for their efforts to address the big issues associated with soy production, which vary across regions.
In Latin America, for example, unsustainable soy production is associated with habitat loss and deforestation. We’re committed to ensure that our supply chain is deforestation-free by 2023 so this is a major factor in our sourcing decisions.
We source the majority of our soy oil from the US, where soil health and water quality are a particular focus for our farmer programmes. These programmes have supported hundreds of soy farmers to improve soil health, water quality and yields by using regenerative methods such as planting cover crops.
The Round Table on Responsible Soy
We are founding members of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS). Since 2010, the development of the RTRS standard has enabled farmers to improve their practices and gain accreditation.
Our purchase of some of the first RTRS certificates was an important step towards ensuring a sustainable supply of soy oil.
Sustainable soy in Latin America
Soy cultivation in Latin America is linked to a number of sustainability challenges. So we’ve been collaborating with partners for several years on long-term RTRS projects that encourage better social, environmental and agricultural practices.
Partnerships for sustainable soy
In Brazil, we are part of a collaboration with the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) and Aliança da Terra, which has helped more than 40 farmers to gain RTRS certification. This collaborative project aims to boost sustainable soy cultivation by supporting growers to adopt better farming practices. Bayer CropScience provides technical services and crop management advice, and Santander provides support for agricultural loans while Yara advises on best use of fertilisers. And we help boost the market for sustainable soy by buying the resulting crop.
We can’t make our foods without high-quality vegetables and fruits from all over the world. Securing a sustainable supply is a priority for our business.
A worldwide network, supporting world-famous brands
A reliable supply of the best ingredients is essential to the long-term future of food brands that people can trust on taste, nutrition and sustainability.
Vegetables are a priority crop for our business. We buy significant quantities of tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, leeks, green beans, mushrooms, potatoes, celeriac, peas and carrots, as well as herbs such as basil, parsley and chives. Most of the vegetables we buy are used in the soups, sauces and other food products made by our Knorr brand.
We also buy a range of high-quality fruit, including strawberries, guava, mango, raspberries and bananas. These are especially important for our ice cream brands, such as Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum, Carte D’Or and Breyers.
With such a wide range of ingredients, we need a diverse supply chain. We buy fruit and vegetables from around 500 suppliers, who in turn buy from around 50,000 growers and farmers.
Partnerships that drive sustainable change
Our expert buyers seek the best quality ingredients from growers around the world. The scale and diversity of this supply chain gives us a great opportunity to make a positive environmental and social impact. But at the same time, it creates complexity when it comes to ensuring a sustainable supply of vegetables – especially as climate change impacts production, prompting us to look for new sources for ingredients. This complexity is reinforced by the fact that currently there is limited availability of vegetables certified as sustainable.
So working in partnership with others is critical if we’re to source our ingredients sustainably.
We work closely with our farmers and suppliers to help them meet the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) standard and our new Regenerative Agriculture Principles, or we recognise equivalent standards provided they match our own. We also support many wider partnership initiatives to drive improvements. For example, we helped establish the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform. The SAI helps us identify links with other fast-moving consumer goods companies who buy from the same suppliers, and agree common standards.
Knorr Sustainability Partnership Fund
Knorr is sold in around 90 countries. It’s our largest food brand and one of the world’s largest brands. While Knorr has worked closely with farmers for 183 years, for the last decade it’s been working to make a positive change across the food system – from the way food is grown to the way it’s consumed. Through its Sustainability Partnership Fund (PDF 2.67MB), Knorr is supporting suppliers and farmers to make change on the ground.
Knorr’s Sustainability Partnership Fund supports sustainable farming projects with suppliers around the world. Knorr will invest 50% of any agreed project budget for initiatives that help nature such as promoting biodiversity, reducing pesticides, preserving water or applying regenerative principles. The other 50% is matched by the supplier or grower. The idea of the fund is to help suppliers try out new ideas and tackle complex sustainability projects that they may not be able to handle alone.
Cocoa is a vital ingredient for many of our brands. We're working with partners to source 100% sustainable cocoa so that we can ensure our supply chain is resilient and we can meet consumer demand.
Global commodities need a collective approach
Cocoa is a global commodity with a complex supply chain. Cultivating cocoa provides livelihoods for millions of people, but is also associated with issues such as deforestation, water impacts and human rights risks – issues we want to play our part in eliminating.
We buy only a small proportion of the global production of cocoa. That means that we cannot change the supply chain just by acting on our own. Partnerships and collaborations are an essential part of our approach.
In particular, we work with suppliers through long-standing certification schemes like the Rainforest Alliance. These have helped drive standards across these sectors, and are a powerful tool when it comes to monitoring sustainable agricultural practices.
Sourcing certified cocoa
We've made significant progress through certification of cocoa, which we mainly use in our ice cream brands such as Magnum, Wall’s and Ben & Jerry’s.
The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and improve smallholder farm practices through its Sustainable Agriculture Standard. The Standard promotes ecosystem conservation, worker rights (including the prohibition of child labour), safety and wildlife protection. It also covers topics like water and soil conservation, agrochemical reduction, legal wages and contracts for workers.
Now, 99% of the cocoa we source for Magnum is Rainforest Alliance Certified™ and 100% of all the other cocoa we use is sustainably sourced.
Our 2025 cocoa strategy
We buy around 1.5% of the global production of cocoa, mainly sourced from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
We're determined to source 100% of our cocoa sustainably – but we know we need to go further to generate systemic change. This is why we've set ourselves the goal of going further, through impact programmes that complement the work of certification programmes and bring us closer to the people who grow our ingredients.
We have already mapped over 85% of our direct cocoa supply chain, together with our suppliers, to improve traceability and better understand where our cocoa comes from. We publish our direct suppliers in our Unilever Tier 1 and Tier 2 Global Cocoa Suppliers – direct sourcing 2021 (PDF 97KB).
By 2025, we aim to have reached at least a third of the cocoa farmers in our direct sourcing with tailored impact programmes that have three key aims:
Sustainable sourcing tools
We offer a number of tools to our suppliers to help them embed more sustainable sourcing practices:
The Cool Farm Tool: This tool calculates the greenhouse gas balance of farming, including emissions from fields, inputs, livestock, land use and land use change and primary processing. It’s ideal for farmers, supply chain managers and companies interested in measuring and reducing their agricultural carbon footprint.
Biodiversity Action Plan: The Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code requires our suppliers or farmers to prepare a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). We have prepared guidance that should be useful to all those who are preparing BAPs as it provides a standard, structured approach.
Towards a sustainable global sugar supply
We’re working towards sourcing all our sugar from sustainable sources. We buy beet sugar and cane sugar from a number of countries spanning Asia, the Americas, Europe and Africa, each of which can have very different supply chains and challenges. While we’re proud of the progress we’ve made, in the longer term, our aim is to help create a global supply of sustainable sugar.
We believe the best way to achieve this is to harmonise the sustainable sourcing codes of the food and drink industries and forge them into a single standard, which can have an impact at scale. That’s why we have helped develop the Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) through the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, which has been agreed by many businesses in the food and beverage industries and gives farmers a single, simplified sustainability framework to work to assess and improve their farm performance.
Bonsucro – making sugar supplies more transparent
We support the Bonsucro standard, which aims to improve standards of production in the cane sugar industry, including by increasing the proportion of physically certified sugar from sugar cane. We continue to buy Bonsucro credits while working with Bonsucro and others in the Americas and Asia to apply a combined approach of credits and certifying supply chains.
Dairy farms are important parts of our brands' ingredient supply chain, particularly for our ice cream business. We encourage high standards among the farmers we source from – including standards of animal welfare, greenhouse gas reduction and biodiversity management.
The programmes that deliver our sustainable dairy commitment
Our Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) and Regenerative Agriculture Principles (RAPs) set out requirements for suppliers and farmers of all our raw materials, including dairy.
Our Livestock Implementation Guides were developed with the help of our external partners FAI Farms (Farm Animals Initiative) in 2013. They outline specific advice for livestock farming and animal welfare.
For our dairy farmers, we provide extra guidance including on the treatment of cows and calves, pasture management, and the management of manure, silage, run-off and other nutrient sources, as well as pesticides and veterinary medicines and many other criteria.
We support this guidance with training for farmers, including in the use of the Cool Farm Tool, which assesses emissions of greenhouse gases; the Cow Compass (a way of monitoring animal welfare); and advice on how to set action plans to improve energy use and enhance biodiversity.
In addition, Caring Dairy is our continuous improvement programme for the farmers who supply the milk and cream for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in both North America and Europe.
Relationships with farmers are crucial
Suppliers and farmers around the world are achieving Unilever’s sustainable dairy standard.
But farming is rarely the same in two places – so while we have a shared set of standards, our approach can look very different from one farmyard to another. Our dairy ingredients come from large farms, from cooperatives and from smallholders who might own between two and five cows – so one size does not fit all.
We’re now working on a model to roll out this programme, including through flagship farms which demonstrate the improvements for other farmers.
With the Dairy Farmers of America, we’re also trialling an approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while improving animal health and welfare. Over 2019–2020, we explored the benefits of a probiotic feed additive with one of our suppliers, with the aim of reducing emissions of methane.
Working with our supply chain
At the same time as working with individual farming groups, we want to collaborate across the sector to achieve higher sustainability standards. We work with the Dairy Sustainability Framework, developed by SAI Platform, which seeks to create a holistic approach to sustainability in the global dairy value chain and align the goals of buyers and producers.
This has led to the launch of the Sustainable Dairy Partnership (SDP). The SDP is what is known as a 'business-to-business' sustainability model, bringing us together with other buyers, and with suppliers representing 30% of global milk volume. It’s built on the Dairy Sustainability Framework (DSF) and its 11 criteria addressing sustainability issues. The SDP also requires all milk processors to address the prevention of deforestation, the protection of animal welfare and human rights, and compliance with local legislation.
Supporting regenerative farming in dairy
Regenerative farming requires system-level changes to the way farmers manage their land. Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy initiative aims to encourage and support practices like this on dairy farms. It has helped cooperatives supply ingredients for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Europe and the US since the brand co-founded the initiative in 2002. It aims to support thriving livelihoods for farmers and farm workers, excellent care for cows, and a flourishing ecosystem that combats climate change through building soil health and sequestering carbon.
Farmers who manage to improve are compensated, based on a third-party audit. Beyond meeting Caring Dairy’s Basic Requirements, farmers can reach Silver or Gold level performance, with increasing reward for each level.
Dairy farming for nature
Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy programme asks dairy farmers to measure themselves against 12 indicators of sustainable and regenerative agriculture – and keep improving. Examples of best practice include planting cover crops to reduce soil erosion, planting without tilling the land (and so keeping more carbon in the soil) and reducing fertiliser use.
Sustainable tea – leading the industry
Using our knowledge to make lives better
With the tea we produce, you could brew over 16 million cups every hour. That means we need to source tea at enormous scale: which in turn means we support the livelihoods of more than 1 million people in 21 countries who work in tea estates belonging to us or our suppliers, or on small farms.
With this scale, we can produce some of the biggest and most innovative names in tea – brands such as Lipton, PG tips, Brooke Bond Red Label, T2, Tazo, Pure Leaf and Pukka, among many others.
It also gives us a unique understanding of the tea industry and its deep-rooted challenges – and a huge opportunity to make a difference to the lives of the people it depends on.
By respecting and valuing the human rights of tea workers and smallholder farmers, and working to improve their health and financial security while protecting and nurturing the land they work on, we aim to set the example for the industry.
The Ethical Tea Partnership
We are a committed member of the Ethical Tea Partnership, a not-for-profit organisation which brings together the tea industry with development partners, NGOs and governments to improve the lives of tea workers, farmers and the environment in which they live and work.
Tackling social issues in the tea supply chain
Around the world, we're working on a range of programmes that aim to create better lives for people in the tea supply chain, both within and beyond our own tea estates in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
The tea industry faces a number of social challenges. Worker wages are often low and there are worrying incidences of human rights abuses including violence against women. Our programmes aim to put an end to this – and are making a difference.
For example, we’ve reached more than 600,000 people with our women’s empowerment programmes in Kenya and India.
Protecting the land for future generations
As well as our social programmes, we work on nature-based projects on our tea farms like smart agriculture, water conservation and pesticide reduction.
Tea workers and farmers depend on the land to grow their tea – and we're committed to nurturing it so that future generations will continue to benefit. We're continuing to build on programmes that implement sustainable and regenerative farming practices including improving soil, crop quality, biodiversity, tea plant breeding and reforestation.
To take one example, we've planted 1.3 million trees across our Unilever Tea Kenya estates, and donated a further 30,000 indigenous trees to local communities and institutions.
Ensuring tea has a long-term future
Many crops, including tea, face enormous challenges from climate change. To increase the resilience of tea, we’re doing a number of things. We worked with the Crop Trust to develop a global conservation strategy, building on our work of sourcing more than 1,000 tea varieties from around the world in order to map tea's genetic diversity.
We’re now working to accelerate the breeding of tea varieties more resilient to climate change. And with Microsoft AI for Earth and Cranfield University’s Centre for Environmental and Agricultural Informatics, we’re bringing in digital agricultural solutions to boost yields sustainably on our tea estate in Kenya.
Towards a transparent tea industry
We want consumers to understand where their tea comes from, because transparency is a key ingredient in our ambition to make the tea industry fairer and more sustainable. Greater scrutiny of our supply chains helps us work more effectively with partners and suppliers to bring about positive change.
In September 2019, we took an important step forward by publishing a list of all our global suppliers (PDF 493KB) of black and green tea – a list we’ll update annually.
Partnerships for change
We'll only achieve our social and environmental ambitions for tea if we work with others, from tea growers, suppliers and NGOs to local and national governments and the wider industry. Public–private partnerships are an important way for us to do this.
One of our longest-running partnerships of this kind was in Kenya, with the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) and IDH (The Sustainable Trade Initiative). Since 2006, we have enabled 86,000 lead farmers – including around 42,000 women – to train at Farmer Field Schools. This practical training helps farmers increase yields sustainably, share best practice with others and improve crop quality, as well as improve their own health and wellbeing.
Building progress through certification
Certification is another important way to drive positive change in our tea supply chain, and we have a long history of supporting it.
In 2007, we supported the Rainforest Alliance to develop local indicators for sustainable tea production in Kenya. We began to certify our tea farms, helping to transform both our own supply chain and the wider industry. Through this, we became the first major tea company to commit to sustainably sourcing tea on a large scale, and Kericho, our largest tea estate in Kenya, was the first tea farm to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification.
Today, Rainforest Alliance Certified™ tea accounts for around 20% of the world’s tea production, and we work with suppliers in 14 countries in Africa and Asia to train smallholder farmers so they can achieve farm certification.
We were also a founding member of trustea, the Indian tea industry collaboration on sustainability. By the end of 2019, 653 factories and tea estates had achieved trustea verification, impacting around 55,670 smallholders and 619,500 tea estate workers, over half of whom were women.
By working with our suppliers and the extraction industry on traceability and standards for responsible sourcing, we aim to increase our positive social impacts while building trust in our brands' supply chains.
Many of the raw materials we use each year to make our products are classified as non-renewable. Around 6 million tonnes of these originate from minerals or metals extracted from the earth. However, the extraction and processing of minerals are sometimes associated with human rights issues. Our Responsible Sourcing Policy guides us in managing our risks to ensure we have supply chains that consumers can trust.
We have a three-part approach to sourcing these non-renewable materials:
- developing traceability in our supply chain down to individual extraction sites
- working with industry to co-create standards for responsible extraction, and
- making a positive impact on the livelihoods of those who work in the non-renewables supply chain.
As we’re not a major player in the area of mineral extraction, we work with suppliers and other industry players to collectively drive responsible sourcing of these materials. We’ve been working on this area for a number of years, which culminated in the creation of the Code for Responsible Extraction (CORE) that we co-created in 2015 with the NGO Solidaridad, as well as supplier and industry partners.
CORE offers a globally acceptable and credible assurance to buyers and other stakeholders that industrial minerals are extracted in a responsible way. It’s independently audited and helps suppliers make continual improvements towards five objectives:
- Governance and legality: enhance compliance with legal requirements and improve governance
- Labour and employment: improve working conditions and ensure labour rights are protected
- Occupational health, safety and security: provide safe and healthy workplaces
- Environment and ecosystem: avoid or minimise adverse impacts on the environment
- Community and stakeholders: respect the rights and aspirations of affected communities.
Increasing our reach through CORE
Where can we have the most impact – on society and on our business – and how can we achieve it? These are the questions that we asked ourselves, and our partners, when we developed and launched CORE.
Around half the non-renewables we buy originate in India and China. Those countries were also identified as places where we had the greatest opportunities both to manage our supply chain risk and build trust and to improve the livelihoods of workers.