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Our Responsible Sourcing Policy in action

We recognise that the success of our Responsible Sourcing Policy depends on the ability of our suppliers to translate its requirements into action, that is, meeting the RSP requirements in their operations. We’re working with suppliers to ensure compliance with the mandatory requirements of our RSP.

We know that moving up the continuous improvement ladder takes individual effort and will also require systemic and industry change. We work directly with suppliers to build skills and develop capabilities across important issues such as human rights, wages, working hours, management systems, fire safety and the environment. We also run joint projects on responsible sourcing innovation to help more of our suppliers move towards the RSP’s Good and Best Practice.

Underpinning our RSP is the process of due diligence and compliance assurance, which includes third-party site audits where our risk-assessment process requires it.

Service suppliers we classify as high risk undergo a desktop auditing assessment, provided by an industry-recognised third-party organisation. Raw material and finished goods suppliers undergo an on-site audit, or where applicable comply with approved certification schemes. If the on-site audit identifies non-conformances to the mandatory requirements of the RSP, the supplier must develop a corrective action plan. A third-party auditor assesses the effectiveness of the plan in a follow-up audit in order to close off the non-conformances within 90 days. A supplier must close all non-conformances to be considered compliant and continue to supply us.

The full process is described in our Human Rights Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB).


"What our audits tell us about our supply chain – and what they can’t”


Simon Hindly

Simon Hindley is our Social Accountability Director.

He leads the Social Accountability team, as part of Integrated Social Sustainability in our Supply Chain function.

“People in my team are passionate about driving up standards for workers in our supply chain. We know that third-party audits of suppliers help identify hugely important issues – such as dangerous working practices, risks of forced labour or discrimination against women. And finding these ‘non-conformances’ triggers a process that leads to better conditions.

For the first time, our latest Human Rights Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB) contains a detailed breakdown of our audit findings against what we’ve identified as our eight salient human rights issues.

Where did we see the highest number of findings? They were in health and safety – some of them representing an imminent or potential threat to life. The result was corrective action, of the kind that has potentially saved lives. Our inspections showed that overall 92% of non-conformances are now closed, results that I think Unilever should be proud of.

We know, though, that there are even greater challenges on issues that are harder to identify and remediate through audit, such as forced labour. And it’s important to remember that audit, while a vital part of the process, cannot transform our supply chain on its own. We’ve learnt that the biggest advances in supply chain standards come from collaborative efforts between us and suppliers, and across industries. This insight has helped shape our approach, and we’ll keep refining what we do in the knowledge that these efforts are making a difference to people’s lives every day they go to work."

Acting on breaches

We expect our suppliers and their employees or contractors to report actual or suspected breaches of our RSP. We will investigate any reported non-conformity reported in good faith and discuss findings with the supplier. If remediation is needed, we expect the supplier to inform us and to implement a time-bound corrective action plan to resolve the failure effectively and promptly.

Raising grievances in our extended supply chain

Alongside worker representation, effective grievance mechanisms play an important part in hearing the voices of workers throughout our supply chain.

Fundamental Principle 10 of our Responsible Sourcing Policy

The mandatory requirement set for suppliers by our RSP is that their workers have access to a confidential grievance mechanism which prohibits retaliation against the worker, ensures the matters are investigated and results in swift, unbiased and fair resolutions.

Over and above a supplier’s own grievance mechanisms, Unilever also provides a hotline that anyone can access to report on Responsible Sourcing issues. We have also developed a specific grievance procedure for workers in our palm oil supply chain (PDF | 2MB).

Collective action to drive progress on human rights with our suppliers

We know neither we nor our suppliers can solve all the endemic challenges in our supply chain on our own, and we understand the complex demands made on suppliers by their customers, including us. Improving standards within the supply chain requires a common approach and focused, sector-based initiatives involving many participants.

Simon Hindley, our Social Accountability Director, Supply Chain

A good example is AIM PROGRESS, a forum of consumer goods manufacturers and suppliers who enable and promote responsible sourcing practices and sustainable production systems. We are founder members of this global initiative, which is supported and sponsored by AIM in Europe and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) in North America.

Along with four other companies, we’re part of the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment (PDF | 650KB), facilitated by the Institute for Human Rights and Business. This promotes ethical recruitment and helps combat the exploitation of migrant workers in global supply chains. It includes the commitment to the ‘employer pays’ principle, meaning that no worker should pay for a job.

We work through organisations such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the United Nations Global Compact and the World Economic Forum to improve environmental and social sustainability, including human rights, in supply chains.

See also Working with others on human rights. More on our commitment to achieving positive impacts in our supply chain are in Inclusive business and our Human Rights Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB).

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