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Independent assurance

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Assurance helps us to drive continuous improvement in performance and in the quality of our data.

Our approach to assurance

We need accurate and robust data on our sustainability performance to help us make decisions, monitor performance and report progress to our stakeholders.

Our Environmental and Occupational Safety performance measures have been independently assured since 1996 by globally recognised providers. In 2011 we began to assure selected key performance measures in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). In 2020 we continued to attain limited assurance of selected Environmental and Occupational Safety performance indicators – see below for more details.

In addition to assurance of selected Environmental and Occupational Safety performance indicators noted above, we developed a phased assurance programme that enabled us to gain independent limited assurance over selected metrics in the USLP covering the nine pillars: Greenhouse Gas, Water, Waste & packaging, Sustainable sourcing, Health & hygiene, Nutrition, Fairness in the workplace, Opportunities for women and Inclusive business.

There are currently no industry norms or globally recognised practices for evaluating and measuring many of the performance indicators in the USLP. Furthermore, given the complexity of the USLP, we decided that annual assurance for every pillar each year was not practical. Over the course of the USLP, each pillar commitment has been assured at least twice – and in most cases more.

Our assurance plan is approved each year by the Board’s Audit Committee.

External assurance in 2020

We reappointed PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) to provide independent assurance for the ninth consecutive year. PwC’s assurance engagement is in accordance with ISAE 3000 and they apply the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW) Code of Ethics. The Unilever Board's Audit Committee oversees the USLP assurance programme.

In 2020, PwC’s scope was to provide limited assurance of selected Environmental and Occupational Safety performance measures and selected USLP pillar commitments: Health & Hygiene, Waste & Packaging, Fairness in the Workplace, Opportunities for Women, Nutrition and Sustainable Sourcing, as well as selected Inclusive Business metrics.

Independent Assurance and Basis of Preparation

Unilever’s Basis of Preparation 2020 (PDF 3.31MB) contains a full description of all Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and Environmental and Occupational Safety performance measures subject to external assurance in the reporting period – including the definitions, scope and data preparation and assumptions. See also PwC’s Independent Limited Assurance Report 2020 (PDF 211KB).

The environmental performance indicators assured were chosen because they reflect the main environmental aspects for our manufacturing sites, including utilities consumption, and waste, air and water pollution. Occupational safety indicators were chosen because safety at work is a top priority for our business.

Ensuring rigorous reporting

We have a number of processes to ensure that we publish information that is accurate and provides a transparent representation of our business.

The Unilever Compass includes a number of sustainability targets, many of which are ground-breaking in what they seek to measure. In 2016, we established the Metrics Team to provide strategic oversight of our metrics and to act as a decision-making body to ensure the ongoing rigour of our reporting. The Metrics Team includes representatives from Finance, Communications and Sustainability.

As well as setting principles for the development and governance of metrics, the Metrics Team ensures every metric has an owner who is a senior expert in the subject. This owner is responsible for understanding the activity underlying the metric (such as handwashing practices or sourcing of sustainable palm oil) and its efficient measurement, calculation and validation.

Each metric is supported by a Basis of Preparation (i.e. an explanation of how the data is collected and calculated and any assumptions made) to ensure a consistent approach year-on-year.

Our sustainability performance targets are tracked annually via a bespoke reporting solution known as ELMA (Electronic, Measurement, Analytics). ELMA has been configured to ensure data accuracy, such as electronic validation and algorithms to prevent double counting.

Our Finance team validates the result and supporting evidence in ELMA to ensure that calculation methods match the stated basis of preparation and that results are correctly aggregated and consistent with the previous year.