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This issue relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good health and well-being
  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Reduced inequalities

Our salient human rights issues

Average read time: 3 minutes

Identifying our salient human rights issues has helped us prioritise how we address human rights impacts across our operations and extended supply chain.

Two men talking to each other at our factory in China

What do we mean by 'salient human rights issues'?

How does a business like ours work out where it should focus its efforts to have a positive impact – and prevent the most negative impacts – in the field of human rights?

That's the rationale behind identifying our salient human rights issues, defined by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) as 'the human rights that are at risk of the most severe negative impacts through a company’s activities or business relationships'.

When we endorsed the UNGPs, we committed to identifying our salient human rights issues. After an extensive process involving wide-ranging consultation within and beyond our business, we've identified eight salient issues: discrimination; fair wages; forced labour; freedom of association; harassment; health & safety; land rights; and working hours.

Unilever’s eight salient issues

And when we became the first company of our size to publish a stand-alone human rights report in line with the UNGPs reporting framework in 2015, we used our salient issues to report against. We’ve carried on using it, including in our Human Rights Report 2020, which describes the progress we've made and the challenges we still face, issue by issue.

We provide even more granular insights through our Human Rights Report 2020 Supplier Audit Update (PDF 2.14MB).

Keeping our salient issues under review

Knowing what our salient issues are has been vital to prioritising our work. But it’s important to stress two things.

The first is that the list is not exhaustive. We know that there are other human rights issues in our value chain – and we're committed to addressing human rights abuses of all kinds.

The second is that while the phrase 'salient issues' may sound a little academic or abstract, we know that the impact of human rights abuses is anything but. These issues affect real people, in real ways: the impacts, both positive and negative, can be life-changing.

With both things in mind, we know we need to keep our salient issues under review so we're focused on the things that matter most. Are there any new, emerging issues we need to consider – such as those relating to technology or new ways of working? And if so, are these relevant globally? Or do we need to take a more local approach?

We've followed up on the initial work we did to identify our salient human rights issues (described in our first Human Rights Report (PDF 4.53MB) in 2015) with a range of work, including regional stakeholder consultations to map out relevance and impact at the regional level. While we found that the main issues remained the same at a global level, in future we’ll also focus on salient human rights issues that we’ve found are most relevant in each region. We’re also addressing emerging issues such as human rights and plastic collection, and the increasing link between human rights and climate change.

We believe that transparency and accountability must underpin the advancement of human rights. We hope our latest Human Rights Report will help foster the engagement and discussion with stakeholders that have been crucial to our progress so far.

Rachel Cowburn-Walden, our Human Rights Stewardship Director