Advancing human rights in our own operations
We have a responsibility to respect human rights. And we know that by advancing human rights in our operations, we’re strengthening our business and building trust.
Being a purpose-led business, behaving responsibly and respectfully towards everyone in our value chain isn’t just about our legal obligations, it’s part of who we are. It’s in our DNA.Alan Jope, our Chief Executive Officer
Respect for human rights is at the core of our business
Our Human Rights Policy Statement (PDF | 609KB) describes our commitment to respect universal principles, our due diligence processes and our governance. We’re using the framework provided by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to monitor, influence and improve the business practices of our own operations, as well as those of our suppliers and business partners.
We published our first Human Rights Report (PDF | 5MB) in June 2015, fulfilling our commitment to report publicly on our implementation of the UN Guiding Principles.
Our report used the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework – making Unilever the first company to do so comprehensively. We describe our progress in our second Human Rights Report (PDF | 10MB), published in December 2017. On page 16, we describe how we identified, and report against, our eight most salient human rights issues - the human rights that are at risk of the most severe negative impacts through our activities or business relationships.
In 2021 we announced a wide-ranging set of commitments and actions to help build a more equitable and inclusive society. All these ambitions – including raising living standards, creating opportunities through inclusivity, and preparing people for the future of work – are founded on the principle of respect for human rights. In our 2020 Human Rights Report (PDF | 8MB) we give an outline of the work we have done since 2014 to build those foundations by embedding the respect and promotion of human rights into every function, role and corner of our organisation – and of our approach to continuing our momentum in the future. We describe the progress we’ve made in addressing our salient human rights issues, and discuss the challenges we continue to face as well as the lessons we have learnt. We believe that human rights are at the heart of sustainable business, and our human rights work does not exist in isolation within Unilever. It’s increasingly integrated throughout the business, with our markets, brands and people in all functions continually improving the ways they advance respect for human rights. Our Report is therefore not exhaustive: it can only give a snapshot of the work that’s done by people and teams across Unilever, every day, all over the world. We know that our journey is not over. Human rights issues still occur in our value chain, and there is much more we need to do to address them. Respect for human rights will continue to drive Unilever’s approach in the years to come. This Report reflects our belief that transparency and accountability must underpin the advancement of human rights. We hope it will help foster the engagement and discussion with stakeholders that have been crucial to our progress so far – and contribute to a global movement in which businesses advance and promote human rights for people everywhere.
Commentary on human rights can be found throughout our Sustainable Living Report. In particular, the Opportunities for women and Inclusive business pillars of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan address specific aspects related to diversity, inclusion, non-discrimination and other human rights issues.
How we define human rights
In line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011), we base our human rights commitment and policy on:
- the International Bill of Human Rights (which, in addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), consists of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) and
- the principles concerning fundamental rights set out in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
We also support the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Over 70 years after it was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) remains the cornerstone of modern human rights law. It calls upon “every individual and every organ of society” to promote respect for human rights.
We support the call of the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights to ‘Stand up for someone’s rights today’.
"Changing one mind, one heart at a time"
Winfridah Moraa Myakwara is by training a human rights lawyer.
She joined Unilever Tea Kenya in 2013 to translate human rights into practical benefits for our employees and the surrounding community. In 2017 she became our Integrated Social Sustainability Manager for Africa.
“From my work I found two essential reasons to embed human rights in our operations. First, it is the ‘human’ thing to do, the right and smart thing to do. And secondly, to drive productivity and profitability with people at the core of business.
The journey to embed human rights is a longstanding one that is nowhere near complete. It is a journey of integrating social good into the core business strategies. It is a journey of changing one mind, one heart at a time.”
Our commitment to our employees
We’re committed to ensuring that all our employees work in an environment that promotes human rights by supporting diversity, trust and equal opportunities, and is free from discrimination or victimisation. This is one of the foundations of our business culture. It enables our employees to work at their best, wherever they are in the world.
Our Respect, Dignity and Fair Treatment Code Policy sets out what we and our employees must do to uphold this culture. It forms part of the framework of 24 Code Policies supporting our Code of Business Principles (Code) (PDF | 9MB) and defining the ethical behaviours all employees need to demonstrate when working for Unilever.
It also defines the requirements of all Unilever companies, for example ensuring all employees’ work is conducted on the basis of freely agreed and documented terms of employment, the payment of fair wages and no employment of individuals under the age of 15 or under the local legal minimum working age or mandatory schooling age, whichever is the higher. Processes are in place to verify these requirements, for example the checking of the ages of job applicants and workers. Any non-compliances are remediated.
In 2016 we updated the Policy specifically to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender identity. We expect and encourage employees to bring to our attention any breach of our Code. See Unilever Code of Business Principles Summary 2018 (PDF | 69KB) and Business integrity for further details.
“Moving from commitments to everyday actions”
After joining Unilever in 2013 to lead our work on human rights, in 2016 Marcela Manubens was appointed our Global Vice President, Integrated Social Sustainability.
In this role she took on responsibility for all areas of supply chain social sustainability, including strategy and advocacy and social accountability for our own operations, suppliers and third parties. She’s also responsible for integrating all aspects of our social impact agenda in our Supply Chain function and across Unilever. Marcela describes how the Integrated Social Sustainability team works:
“Despite all the progress made in recent years, there are many challenges and threats to human rights, some longstanding, some newly emerging.
I believe that if we are to succeed in advancing human rights worldwide, we must all share a responsibility to move from commitments to impactful everyday actions. And we must challenge ourselves to prevent abusive conditions from happening. What does that mean to our business? It means that we must be a company prepared to rethink its business and work with others to embed human rights in all we do until respect for human rights becomes a universal reality.
The way our Integrated Social Sustainability team works reflects the importance of looking at these issues holistically. The team tackles our eight salient human rights issues, taking action on three fronts.
- In Social Accountability we focus on working with our suppliers to create truly socially, environmentally and economically sustainable supply chains.
- Human Rights Stewardship looks at endemic strategic emerging human rights issues: helping the business address issues we know are endemic in global supply chains.
- Our Social Impact work operationalises human rights efforts on the ground.
By bringing these elements together, we’re moving closer to the vision for our business we all want to see: a company in which respect for human rights is embedded in everything we do, creating a positive social impact for millions of people. In January 2021 we set out our new commitments to help build a more equitable and inclusive society.”
How we check on our progress
Compliance, monitoring & reporting
We support our commitment with an active process of compliance, monitoring and reporting. The Board of Unilever has overall responsibility for ensuring this is carried out. Day-to-day responsibility lies with senior management around the world. Checks are also made by our Corporate Audit function and by our external auditors.
Responsibility for the strategy and execution of our global Code compliance programme is held by our Chief Business Integrity Officer, who reports to our Chief Legal Officer. She heads up a network of national and regional Business Integrity Officers who are part of our Legal function.
Providing ‘access to remedy’
We’re developing a single integrated Code and grievance channel to ensure that our employees can raise issues and concerns as simply as possible. Our grievance procedure enables employees to raise workplace issues and concerns about their employment. Our Code procedure is for raising concerns about the Code or related policies. We are also creating better systems to analyse the grievances and Code breaches we receive. Our Chief Business Integrity Officer leads this work.
How can people raise concerns & make reports?
Transparency is essential. We believe grievance mechanisms play a critical role in opening channels for dialogue, problem solving, investigation and, when required, providing remedy. They enable workers and other rights-holders to raise complaints freely and obtain effective and transparent resolutions. They can also help identify country-specific solutions and pre-emptive action.
We encourage individuals and communities to raise any concerns with us directly. On occasions where they feel they aren't able to do this, we would never seek to impede access to state-based judicial or non-judicial mechanisms for those who feel human rights have been impacted, and would aim to co-operate as required with competent authorities in investigating or adjudicating alleged human rights impacts.
We encourage all our employees and third parties to speak up, without fear of retaliation and in strict confidence (or anonymously if they prefer), regarding any concerns about Code issues. Encouraging people to speak up early helps us manage risk and builds trust in our business. Likewise, by communicating the number of substantiated breaches and dismissals each year we make ‘living the Code’ a very visible part of our culture.
We invite employees to discuss concerns directly with their line manager, Business Integrity Officer or a member of their local leadership wherever possible. Employees can also use an externally-hosted confidential Code Support Line (a ‘whistle-blowing’ line) – on the phone or internet. All our Business Integrity awareness and learning materials highlight these channels.
Similarly, while we require our suppliers to provide their workers with their own robust internal procedures to raise any issues, our Code Support Line is open to third parties. That means our suppliers and their employees can also contact us if they’re concerned about any breaches (by us or within their own operations) of our Code, our Responsible Sourcing Policy or Responsible Business Partner Policy.
For more detail, see Business integrity.
Bringing human rights to life for our employees
Training and support are essential if we are to embed respect for human rights across Unilever. We run a wide range of training on compliance and integrity, and all our employees are trained on respect for human rights every three years. This training is supported by our new internal Integrated Social Sustainability online hub which contains our key policy publications, reports, and best practice guidance documents. And each year, we celebrate Human Rights Day.
How we've celebrated Human Rights Day (10 December) within Unilever
We celebrated our first Unilever Human Rights Day with activities that included a film in which our senior leaders described why human rights mattered to them and to the business.
We promoted our new Fairness in the Workplace pillar of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.
We helped people to understand the eight salient human rights issues included in our first Human Rights Report (PDF | 5MB).
We encouraged employees in around 60 offices and factories worldwide to support the UN Human Rights Office’s global campaign Stand up for someone’s rights today.
We launched our second Human Rights Report (PDF | 10MB) and publicised it via ‘Human rights: the foundation on which our business is built’ on our website.
We published details of how we continued to address our salient human rights issues including addressing conditions for migrant workers in the Turkish agricultural sector and working conditions in the trucking industry.