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High angle view of moss and plants growing by roots in forest

This issue relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  • Climate action
  • Life on land

Zero deforestation

Average read time: 15 minutes

We’re working within our business and with external partners to eliminate deforestation from our supply chain, 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 18% 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 almost all of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Ending deforestation within our supply chain is one of the biggest contributions Unilever can make to create a more sustainable world and maintain consumers' trust in our products.

Our goal – a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023

We’ve committed to achieving a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023. This means that by the end of 2023 our raw materials will come from places that are verified as deforestation and conversion free.

We’re focusing first on our supply chains for palm oil, paper and board, tea, soy, and cocoa. This is because these supply chains contribute to than 65% of Unilever’s total impact on land – and are the crops that are most often linked to deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems to farmland.

We believe that, to make the greatest impact, we must focus on generating change at our raw materials’ origin. That’s why we are concentrating on the critical first mile – from where our commodities are sourced, to where they are first processed.

Our scale enables us to have some impact but even so, we can’t achieve the level of change needed on our own. We’re inviting others in our supply chain to partner with us to drive systemic change together.

We are committed to working with industry groups, NGOs and governments – to form partnerships, promote advocacy and carry out critical work on the ground.

Our plan of action

Over the past 10 years, we've learnt that certification alone won’t guarantee a deforestation-free supply chain. To end deforestation, we need visibility and understanding of the origins of our raw materials. This is particularly true for that crucial first mile - from where the commodity is sourced to where it is first processed. To achieve this, we're investing in traceability and transparency efforts supported by emerging digital technologies. We're also strengthening our requirements of suppliers, working to empower farmers and smallholders to protect and regenerate their land and continuing our important work with industry, NGOs and governments on the ground.

View of the Asia from space

Technology for transparency

In 2020 we became the first company to use Google Earth Engine for commercial sustainable sourcing, and one of the pioneering companies to work with Orbital Insight, using geolocation technology to trace our palm oil and soy supply chains.

Our People and Forest First strategy outlines how we plan to combine these approaches to eliminate deforestation in our supply chain by 2023.

Our People and Forest First Strategy

Tropical dense forest with morning light

Our approach for ending deforestation in our supply chain by 2023 has three pillars:

Transparency and traceability

Investing in robust systems to become a leader in traceable sourcing:

  • Raw material origins: 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 traceable and transparent supply chains.
  • Stronger monitoring and response: the latest digital capabilities will help us improve how we monitor, predict and respond to situations where deforestation is likely to occur. This will help us identify high-risk areas and implement where they’re needed most.

Focused sourcing

Improving the way we source our materials:

  • Simplifying the way we source: we want to work and prioritise suppliers who have the same sustainable ambitions as we do. By doing, this we will develop deeper relationships and get better visibility of our impact on the ground.
  • Setting clear requirements: our newly introduced cross-commodity People and Nature Policy for the Sourcing of Forest-Related Commodities, asks our supply chain partners to disclose primary and secondary processing facilities – effectively giving us traceability to where raw materials are grown.
  • Low risk of deforestation: we will prioritise sourcing from areas with low risk of deforestation while working in partnership with organisations to protect and regenerate other natural ecosystems in need of protection.

Working with farmers and smallholders

Enhancing livelihoods through partnerships, training and regenerative practices:

  • Positive interventions: empowering smallholders in our supply chain by supporting livelihood programmes that improve farming operations, increase productivity, assist in diversifying income streams, and enable farmers to have a living income.
  • Regenerating nature: we will drive the uptake of regenerative agricultural practices and contribute to the restoration of degraded landscapes, particularly by supporting programmes that protect natural ecosystems.
  • Force for good: 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.

Working with our suppliers

In the fight against deforestation, working closely with our suppliers is crucial. They help us get closer to the people who grow our crops, which, in turn, helps us ensure they come from sustainable sources.

Our work on this is covered in our new People and Nature Policy (PDF 2.04MB). This policy combines our previous Palm Oil and Paper and Board policies into a single document. It covers all our conversion-risk crops (palm oil, soy, paper and board, tea and cocoa) and updates and builds on our previous commitments.

This policy is based on the principles of NDPE (no deforestation, no development on peat, and no exploitation of people and communities). It is designed to complement the Accountability Framework Initiative and covers environmental, economic and social objectives.

Our People and Nature Policy principles are embedded in our supplier contracts and are important indicators of performance. They are also key to influence sourcing decisions, like prioritising areas with lower risks of deforestation. All our suppliers have been introduced to the principles of our policy and we are working to achieve full implementation.

Along with our Responsible Sourcing Policy (PDF 8.25MB), this policy includes criteria which aim to address prevailing and systemic human rights issues in our supply chains. This includes respect for land rights, which are critical for people's food security, and for inclusive social and economic development.

Our four principles for sustainable sourcing

  • Protecting natural ecosystems from deforestation and conversion
  • Respecting and promoting human rights
  • Transparency and traceability
  • Being a force for good for nature and people

These principles are set out in full in our People and Nature Policy (PDF 2.04MB).

People in a field harvesting tea using a machine

Making our suppliers public

We’re shining a light on issues in supply chains so that they can be remediated, which is why we have now published our full supply chains for palm oil (PDF 283KB), soy (PDF 111KB), paper and board (PDF 173KB), cocoa (PDF 120KB) and tea (PDF 493KB).

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 have 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 linked to deforestation. If they later succeed in meeting our requirements, we will give them the opportunity to join our suppliers list again in the future.

Working with our suppliers to halt deforestation

Man sitting in a field of palm

Our suppliers can help us get closer to the people who grow our raw materials – so we can ensure they come from sustainable sources.

We’re working with the Indonesian government-owned palm oil plantation company PT Perkebunan Nusantara (PTPN) on a joint plan to support local mills and smallholder farmers to produce palm oil according to the standards of No deforestation, No development on peat, and No exploitation of people and communities (NDPE).

As part of the partnership, PTPN is giving Unilever access to its mills and its supplying farmer base. This means we can support the mills and farmers to become certified by providing a combination of dedicated resources, funding and technical expertise.

By the end of 2020, our partnership had helped to certify more than 35 of PTPN’s palm oil mills to the RSPO standard. Participating smallholder farmers are better positioned to enter the palm oil supply chain because they can increase their productivity while producing palm oil to the approved standards. Currently there are 3,648 smallholders involved in this initiative, with 1,942 smallholders certified so far.

Making a difference on the ground

Today, Unilever needs approximately four million hectares of land for all its agricultural raw materials to be produced. Around 65% of that area, close to three million hectares, is related to five key commodities – palm oil, paper and board, tea, soy and cocoa.

That’s why our efforts to address deforestation are initially focused on these five crops, as they present the highest risk of ecosystem loss and damage as well as more than 50% of the carbon emissions associated with our ingredients.

Deforestation-free palm oil

We have an extensive programme 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, but there is still much more to be done.

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

Deforestation-free paper and board

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

By the end of 2020, 96% of our directly-purchased paper and board packaging materials were made from recycled fibre, or came from certified sustainably-managed forests. Our aim is to buy paper packaging that comes either from well-managed forests or from recycled material. But sometimes we need to source virgin paper and board – for example, because of safety regulations.

When we do, we buy from certified sources with a full 'chain of custody' from the plantation to us. This gives us complete oversight of the journey our raw material has taken to get us from its origin. We achieve this either through certification schemes, like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), or other national schemes under the framework of the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). By the end of 2020, 98.5% of our virgin supply was certified with chain of custody, with 92.6% of our total supply with third-party segregated chain of custody and/or low risk countries.

Following the introduction of our People and Forests First strategy, we have shifted a significant amount of our sourcing to places where the risk of deforestation is low. In the locations where deforestation risk remains high, we complement our use of certification schemes with other forms of verification.

Through the Global Traceability Solutions system, we contact our estimated 320 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, effectively achieving traceability to the mill (TTM) for paper and board.

Deforestation-free tea

We are the world's biggest tea company, buying around 10% of the world’s black tea. We source tea from our own tea estates, our suppliers or from smallholder farmers around the world. This means we support the livelihoods of more than 1 million people in 21 countries.

Our long-standing partnership with the Rainforest Alliance supports smallholder farmers around the world to adopt more sustainable practices – and our project with The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) is helping to reverse deforestation and as a result, improve rainfall, to support tea growing.

We’ve taken an important step forward in transparency by publishing a list (PDF 493KB) of all our global suppliers of black and green tea – a list we'll update annually. By the end of 2020, 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. 

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.

By the end of 2020, over 90% of our soybean oil originated in 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. 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. 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 for Responsible Soy (RTRS) certification. In 2020, this programme resulted in over 89,000 hectares of sustainably managed lands, including more than 17,000 hectares of protected native vegetation and the restoration of around 200 hectares of degraded land with native vegetation.

By the end of 2020, about 56% of the soy sourced from high-risk origins was verified as deforestation and conversion-free. 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.

Unilever recognises partnerships play a key role in transforming the industry. As a founding member of the Round Table on Responsible Soy, we’ve worked with NGOs, governments and suppliers for several years to develop an international standard for sustainable soy.

We are also 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. Through the manifesto, signatory companies commit to collaborating with local and international stakeholders towards environmental protection and good governance.

We believe transparency is essential to a more sustainable supply chain. Our published supplier list (PDF 111KB) gives details of our direct suppliers, accounting for more than 99.9% of our soy oil purchases.

Did you know…

We are working with technology partners, like Orbital Insight, to improve the visibility of our sourcing beyond direct suppliers and mills so that we can map the origins of our soy to the municipality and farm level.

We are also committed to working with suppliers that share our sustainability ambitions. In 2020, we embedded People and Forest Positive requirements into the contracts of suppliers who contribute to 93% of our total soybean oil consumption – and we’re working to achieve this with our remaining suppliers.

Deforestation-free cocoa

We buy around 1.5% of the global production of cocoa, mainly sourced from Ivory Coast 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, Fairtrade and UTZ, 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 92% of our direct cocoa supply chain 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. 

Ice cream

100% Of our cocoa (and 99% of our cocoa for Magnum) is sourced through certification schemes such as the Rainforest Alliance, UTZ and Fairtrade

Working with cocoa smallholders

Group of farmers with baskets and spreading cocoa beans on a wooden surface for drying under the sun

Helping farmers diversify their crops – and therefore boost their income – is an important way to give them financial security and secure land tenure. These are key factors in sustainable production as farmers are less likely to have to resort to illegally deforesting more land to support their families.

Our recent project in southern Côte d'Ivoire helped 448 smallholder cocoa farmers grow maize as well as cocoa during 2019. It aimed to make smallholders more resilient, with a particular focus on women farmers. Despite severe droughts during the project, yields of maize were higher than on control fields – and 79% of the farmers reported that they were positive about their maize harvest. Our target is to reach 6,000 farmers with income diversification programmes and opportunities by 2025.