Fairness in the workplace

Unilever's work on fairness in the workplace supports

4 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

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Fairness in the workplace

Fairness in the workplace is about respecting the rights of all those who work with us.

Millions of people work in our operations and extended supply chain, helping us create the products used by billions more. For us, fairness in the workplace is about respecting, and advancing, their human rights - everywhere we operate, and in everything we do.

Our guiding principle is that business can only flourish in societies in which human rights are respected, advanced and upheld. We believe respecting and promoting human rights forms the foundation for a healthy, sustainable and equitable business, and are essential for effective relationships with everyone we depend on. This is reflected throughout the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, and in many areas of this Sustainable Living Report, including in Sustainable sourcing, Opportunities for women, and Inclusive business.

Through the work described in the Fairness in the Workplace section of this report, we aim to contribute to a number of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), primarily: Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3), Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8), and Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10). Underpinning the achievement of these goals is SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals. See our Human Rights Report (PDF | 10MB) for how our activities support other SDGs.

By working in collaboration with others and through a process of continuous improvement, we aim to achieve fairness in the workplace for all the people with whom we work.

Our strategy

We will drive fairness in the workplace by advancing human rights across our operations and in our extended supply chain.

Worker on production line

Why fairness in the workplace matters to us

We want to deliver positive social impact as well as business growth – it is fundamental to our purpose as a business. Fairness in the workplace is a vital element of maintaining people's trust in our business – and is directly linked to our licence to operate, and to the reputation of Unilever and our brands. It contributes to business continuity, helps us attract and retain the best talent, increases productivity, and builds long-term value to shareholders. We’ve set a number of targets to advance human rights and to enhance the health and safety of our employees.

Our approach to human rights

We aim to uphold and promote human rights in three main ways:

  • In our operations by upholding our values and standards.
  • In our relationships with our suppliers and other business partners.
  • By working through external initiatives, such as the UN Global Compact, the Consumer Goods Forum and the Institute for Human Rights and Business to name a few.

We focus on our ‘salient’ human rights issues – that is, those that are at risk of the most severe negative impacts through our activities or business relationships.

This approach is in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which we endorsed in 2011. We use the Guiding Principles to underpin our own high standards of corporate behaviour: they help us to identify and tackle systemic causes of abuse, and to work collaboratively and openly with others.

Our policies and codes drive our internal and external compliance requirements along our whole value chain. Our Framework for Fair Compensation sets out the principles which we require all our businesses to comply with and includes our ambition that all employees should have guaranteed fixed earnings to earn a living wage. Read more in Fair Compensation.

Our approach to health & safety

We aim to promote a positive physical and mental health environment in the workplace, to enable our people to thrive. By empowering our employees to be the best version of themselves, we help them, and our business, to work safely and effectively. 

Improving our employees’ health, safety and well-being is integral to fairness in the workplace. We instil safety in the behaviour of our people and the design of our sites and products, guided by a vision of Zero: Zero fatalities; Zero injuries; Zero motor vehicle incidents; Zero process incidents; and Zero tolerance of unsafe behaviour and practices.

We support our employees through a strategy that addresses their physical, mental, and emotional well-being, as well as their ‘sense of purpose’. This includes providing them with tools to promote, maintain and enhance their health so they can maximise their physical and mental fitness.

Our commitment

By 2020, we will drive fairness in the workplace by further building human rights across our operations and advancing human rights in our extended supply chain, developing a continuous improvement roadmap and promoting best practice. We will create a framework for fair compensation, and help employees take action to improve their health (physical and mental), nutrition and well-being. We will reduce workplace injuries and accidents in our factories and offices.

Progress to date

In 2019 we continued to embed the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights throughout Unilever’s operations, with a focus on our eight salient human rights issues (as documented in our 2019 progress update). We undertook Human Rights Impact Assessments, started working with our suppliers and through collaboration with others to eliminate recruitment fees (Employer Pays Principle) and to improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers, temporary workers and transport workers.

70% of our procurement spend was through suppliers meeting the Mandatory Requirements of our Responsible Sourcing Policy.

Our Framework for Fair Compensation (PDF | 449KB) outlines how the various elements of our compensation packages deliver fair compensation. We continued to make progress, paying at or above a certified living wage in most places. We are actively working through the small number of remaining issues in areas with complex pay arrangements.

75 countries ran our Lamplighter employee health programme and our safety performance (Total Recordable Frequency Rate) reached to 0.76˄ accidents per million hours worked.

Future challenges

Human rights, and our work to embed and promote respect for them, cannot be separated from the changing economic and political conditions in the markets where we operate. Events in 2019 reflect a regression in the respect for, and promotion of, human rights. New social challenges continue to arise, and to meet them, we’ll need to ‘innovate rights’ to ensure that this new context does not erode the fundamental value of respect for each and every individual.

We’re looking at the potential impact on human rights of developments in technology - sometimes called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The use of technology – and in particular digital – can bring further transparency and agility to identify the issues that workers are facing, so that we can focus on remediation, prevention and best practices. But we need to ensure that technological development doesn’t undermine the rights of workers: this ‘new frontier’ of a digital, borderless and global workforce has created a generation of 'invisible workers'.

Another challenge comes with the disposal of plastics. While the environmental consequences are all too clear, there is a social impact too: plastic is frequently collected by people working in the informal economy who don’t earn adequate wages or receive social benefits. To help address this, we’re innovating new business models to ensure that people involved in this industry make a living wage.

At the same time, we need to carry on addressing other issues that are the most salient to rights-holders, such as harassment and modern slavery.

Addressing salient human rights issues in our value chain helps us build a more resilient business. We’ll continue to make both the moral and the business case for this, while strengthening our internal capability, and the capability of our suppliers and other business partners to own and self-manage issues. More than ever, it’s critical that whether tackling new challenges or continuing to address the root causes of existing ones, we always take a human rights lens to everything we do. We welcome and promote increasing requirements for transparency to create positive fundamental change.

 Independently assured by PwC

˄ 2019 TRFR includes for the first time new acquisitions that operate as decentralised business units; had we included these in 2017 and 2018, our reported TRFR would have been approximately 6% higher in each year

Downloads

Unilever Human Rights Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB)

Taking action

We are taking action on human rights, fair compensation, and health and safety to ensure the well-being of those who work with us.

Targets & performance

As part of the Fairness in the Workplace pillar of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we have set ambitious targets on advancing human rights, fair compensation, improving employee health, nutrition and well-being, and reducing workplace injuries and accidents.

Fairness in the workplace
Our commitment

By 2020, we will drive fairness in the workplace by further building human rights across our operations and advancing human rights in our extended supply chain, developing a continuous improvement roadmap and promoting best practice. We will create a framework for fair compensation, and help employees take action to improve their health (physical and mental), nutrition and well-being. We will reduce workplace injuries and accidents in our factories and offices.

Our performance

In 2019 we continued to embed the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights throughout Unilever’s operations, with a focus on our eight salient human rights issues (as documented in our 2019 progress update). We undertook Human Rights Impact Assessments, started working with our suppliers and through collaboration with others to eliminate recruitment fees (Employer Pays Principle) and to improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers, temporary workers and transport workers.

70% of our procurement spend was through suppliers meeting the Mandatory Requirements of our Responsible Sourcing Policy.

Our Framework for Fair Compensation (PDF | 449KB) outlines how the various elements of our compensation packages deliver fair compensation: by the end of 2019, we were paying at or above a certified living wage in most places and are actively working through the small number of remaining issues which are in areas with complex pay arrangements.

75 countries ran our Lamplighter employee health programme and our safety performance (Total Recordable Frequency Rate) reached 0.76˄ accidents per million hours worked.  

Our perspective

We continued to embed human rights with a focus on our eight salient issues (ie those at risk of the most severe negative impact through Unilever’s activities or business relationships) as described in our Human Rights Reports in 2015 and 2017. We published a progress update at the end of 2019.

In 2019, we created a new internal business and human rights training series and internal guidance to help us address the changing world of work. We continued to work in collaboration with peer companies and organisations to build supplier awareness and capability to eliminate recruitment fees and promote ethical recruitment. We introduced an enhanced vetting process for third-party labour agencies, starting in our factories, and undertook multi-stakeholder collaborations to address endemic issues such as often poor working conditions in the trucking industry.

We carried out Human Rights Impact Assessments and ‘deep dives’ in certain countries and commodities, such as in agriculture in Turkey, and started to address the poor working conditions of waste collectors in the informal economy by innovating new business models to help people make a living wage.

70% of our procurement spend was through suppliers meeting the Mandatory Requirements of our Responsible Sourcing Policy. We published an updated breakdown of the RSP’s audit findings and started work to introduce a new approach – ‘RSP before Purchase Order’ – which means that suppliers of products or services must be compliant with the RSP before a buyer can raise a purchase order.

For our workforce, our Framework for Fair Compensation (PDF | 449KB) outlines how the various elements of our compensation packages deliver fair compensation. By the end of 2019, we were paying at or above a certified living wage in most places and are actively working through the small number of remaining issues which are in areas with complex pay arrangements.

We continued to run our Lamplighter employee health programme and our Employee Assistance Programme which is available 365 days a year. We are sad to report that there were four fatalities at work and our accident rate increased marginally to 0.76˄ accidents per million hours worked. We know we have more to do to reinforce our Vision Zero strategy for safety, ie zero: fatalities; injuries; motor vehicle incidents; process incidents; tolerance of unsafe behaviour and practices.

 Independently assured by PwC

˄ 2019 TRFR includes for the first time new acquisitions that operate as decentralised business units; had we included these in 2017 and 2018, our reported TRFR would have been approximately 6% higher in each year


  • Achieved 3

  • On-Plan 4

  • Off-Plan 0

  • %

    Of target achieved 0

Key to our performance
  • Achieved

    This is the number of targets we have achieved

  • On-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are on track to achieve

  • Off-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are currently not on track

  • %

    Of target achieved

    This is the percentage of the target we are on track to achieve

Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Implement UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

We will implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights throughout our operations and report on progress publicly.

In 2019 we continued to embed the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights into our operations, with a focus on our eight salient human rights issues.


Our perspective

In 2019 we continued to embed human rights with a focus on our eight salient issues as described in our inaugural Human Rights Report (PDF | 5MB).

We created and began to roll out global, internal business and human rights training focusing on our supply chain, procurement and brand teams. This will be complemented by ‘deep dives’ into our salient human rights issues.

We carried out independent Human Rights Impact Assessments in Guatemala, Thailand and Turkey.

Through our ongoing partnership with UN Women, we also published Implementation Guidance for the Global Safety Framework.

We continued to focus on migrant workers by driving the implementation of our policy on no payment of recruitment fees (the Employer Pays Principle) including by engaging with multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Consumer Goods Forum, Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment and Responsible Labour Initiative. We also worked with transport companies, labour agencies and waste collection companies to improve conditions for other vulnerable workers.


Advancing human rights in our own operations

Source 100% of procurement spend in line with our Responsible Sourcing Policy

We will source 100% of our procurement spend through suppliers who commit to promote fundamental human rights as specified in our Responsible Sourcing Policy.

70% of procurement spend through suppliers meeting the Mandatory Requirements of our Responsible Sourcing Policy in 2019.


Our perspective

In 2019 we purchased around €34 billion of goods and services from around 60,000 suppliers across 160 countries. The suppliers of these goods and services are central to driving efficiencies to enhance profitability and to helping us implement the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Ensuring that everything we source is in line with the purpose behind our brands requires a new way of working with all of our suppliers. Compliance with the Mandatory Requirements of our Responsible Sourcing Policy is key to this ambition. In 2019, we began to align our spend and compliance systems, so that we can assess how a supplier is performing, both at the outset with new suppliers, and in our ongoing relationship.

We started work to introduce a new approach – ‘RSP before Purchase Order’ – which means that suppliers of products or services must be compliant with the RSP before a buyer can raise a purchase order.

Advancing human rights in our extended supply chain

Create a framework for fair compensation

  • We will create a framework for fair compensation, starting with an analysis in 180 countries by 2015.

We will work with external organisations, including our social partners, referring to approaches such as living wage methodologies.

In 2015 we created a Framework for Fair Compensation which we rolled out in 2016. We use the Fair Wage Network to provide a global database of relevant living wage benchmark data for each country in which we have operations. This enables us to compare non-management employees’ lowest fixed earnings levels against relevant living wage benchmarks.


Our perspective

We created our Framework for Fair Compensation (PDF | 449KB) in 2015 to provide a structured way to outline how the various elements of our compensation packages deliver fair compensation to our employees.

In 2017 we increased our ambition on the Framework’s living wage element by advancing our target to achieve it from 2020 to 2018. By the end of 2019, we were paying at or above a certified living wage in most places and are actively working through the small number of remaining issues which are in areas with complex pay arrangements.

We also analysed our gender pay gap for our worldwide business as a whole in 2019. We found that in countries with more than 250 employees, the average female pay was 22% higher than male pay in 2019 (2018: 26%). This is largely due to the fact that 79% (2018: 80%) of our lower paying blue-collar roles are held by male employees.

Fair compensation

Improve employee health, nutrition and well-being

Our Lamplighter employee programme aims to improve the nutrition, fitness and mental resilience of employees. By 2010 it had already been implemented in 30 countries, reaching 35,000 people.



  • In 2011 we aimed to extend the reach of Lamplighter to a further eight countries. We will implement Lamplighter in an additional 30 countries between 2012 and 2015. Our longer-term goal is to extend it to all the countries where we operate with over 100 people.

Our Lamplighter programme reached 91,000 employees across 70 countries by 2014, achieving our target a year early. It reached 75 countries in 2019.


  • We will implement a mental well-being framework globally.

In 2015 we completed the two-year roll-out of our new module for mental well-being and established a global steering committee to monitor progress.


Our perspective

Our Lamplighter employee health programme is key to addressing the top three health risks across our business: mental well-being; lifestyle factors (eg exercise, nutrition, smoking, obesity); and ergonomic factors (eg repetitive strain injury).

Lamplighter helps to safeguard employees’ health, improve productivity and reduce costs. It reached 91,000 employees across 70 countries in 2014, fulfilling our target to reach 68 countries a year early.

In 2019 Lamplighter encouraged 81,000* employees across 75 countries to enrol.

In 2015, we rolled out Unilever’s mental well-being module. This helps people manage pressure, offering practical advice on how to focus and practise mindfulness techniques, to feel more empowered and to work in an agile manner. Our global Employee Assistance Programme for employees and dependants is available 365 days a year, ensuring that no one is more than one chat, one call or one click away from support. 

* This number fluctuates from year to year as we do not cover every employee on a yearly basis

Improving employee health & well-being

Reduce workplace injuries and accidents

We aim for zero workplace injuries. By 2020 we will reduce the Total Recordable Frequency Rate (TRFR) for accidents in our factories and offices by 50% versus 2008.

64% reduction in TRFR achieved by 2019, down to 0.76˄† from 2.10 accidents per 1 million hours worked in 2008.


Our perspective

Our Total Recordable Frequency Rate (TRFR)* was marginally up from 0.69 accidents per million hours worked in 2018 to 0.76˄† in 2019.

2019 TRFR includes for the first time new acquisitions which operate as decentralised business units. After a spike in the first six months when injury rates went up (partly due to the inclusion of decentralised business units), we achieved a substantial incident rate reduction, in line with our year-on-year declining trend.

During the reporting period, regrettably there were four fatalities at work in Latin America involving two employees and two contractors. Two were traffic accidents and two happened in factories. We introduced a one-hour stand-down (a scheduled stop) across Unilever’s operations for fatalities at work, with a Unilever Leadership Executive member or country General Manager travelling to the fatality location to review the case and learnings. We also held safety events involving all third parties – in manufacturing, logistics and distribution – to ensure stronger implementation and monitoring of safety standards.

* Measured 1 October 2018 to 30 September 2019

˄ 2019 TRFR includes for the first time new acquisitions that operate as decentralised business units; had we included these in 2017 and 2018, our reported TRFR would have been approximately 6% higher in each year

 Independently assured by PwC

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