Fairness in the workplace

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Partnership For The Goals
  1. Home
  2. ...
  3. Fairness in the workplace
  4. Building a safer business

Building a safer business

We want to grow our business responsibly. That means safety is a non-negotiable commitment, shared by everyone at Unilever.

Workers in a factory in China

Safety is about people - and we all play a part

Facts and figures are a vital tool for measuring safety and driving the progress we continue to see in our business – but they do not tell the full story. Behind any set of safety statistics are real people, who should be able to live and work free from the risk of injuries or accidents. These rights are echoed in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

SDG 3 on Good Health and Well-being flags the need to halve road deaths and injuries by 2020, while SDG 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth highlights the need to protect labour rights and provide safe and secure working conditions. None of this can be achieved without working in partnership (SDG 17).

Our approach to safety begins with the recognition that our business has a responsibility, not only to our 161,000 employees who make the products we sell in more than 190 countries, but also to all the people and communities we work with and among. It’s a moral obligation that’s captured in our Code of Business Principles - and a business imperative too, since our commercial success depends on the trust people place in us.

Accountable leadership and a strong policy framework are critical, and we describe them below. But a true safety culture is not delivered exclusively from the top down. Instead, it relies on everyone working together in a culture where the protection of all is non-negotiable. It is this principle that underpins our Unilever safety mission.

Our Code of Business Principles and our Safety Mission

Our Code of Business Principles commits us to provide safe and healthy working conditions for all employees. And our Code Policy on Occupational Health and Safety spells out what employees must and must not do to ‘live the Code.’

Our Safety Mission: Through authentic leadership, to build an interdependent safety culture that protects the well-being of our employees, visitors, contractors and assets, and delivers on responsible growth.

As well as being a target within the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, health and safety is one of our eight salient human rights issues, and we are committed to improving safety throughout our value chain. More details on the work we do with our suppliers to drive up safety standards through our Responsible Sourcing Policy and Responsible Business Partner Policy can be found in our Human Rights Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB) and Advancing Human Rights with suppliers & business partners.

Towards an interdependent safety culture

RS Ravi

RS Ravi, Group Safety Director.

“I think of safety as being at the heart of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan's (USLP) vision. You cannot have holistic, responsible growth unless you care about people, and that means making sure those people go home safely to their families every day.” This is the firm belief of RS Ravi, our Group Safety Director.

The safety culture has come a long way since I first became a safety practitioner, 33 years ago – and even since I joined Unilever, as the business began to implement its USLP. More and more, we’ve come to see how safety is interconnected with every part of the business – and indeed with the people in our supply chain and the communities around us.

We have more we need to do to reduce injuries and fatalities to zero, and there are always fresh challenges, such as when Unilever acquires new businesses which we need to bring in to our way of working. But the commitment of everyone in the business to safety, driven by our most senior leadership, has meant that we’ve built a culture in which people take responsibility for their own safety. As a result, we’ve seen significant progress in reducing injuries.

Now we need to move the whole business further towards what we safety practitioners call an 'interdependent' safety culture. That means that everyone works together because they share a belief that our vision is attainable: zero injuries and fatalities.”

We are reducing injuries – but there’s more to do

Thanks to the dedication and effort of people throughout Unilever, we’ve made progress against the target to reduce injuries we set ourselves in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in 2010. We first met this target in 2013, seven years ahead of schedule. Our target remains challenging, however, and we will only continue our progress by remaining vigilant throughout our business.

In 2017, we continued to reduce our accident rate, see Targets & Performance. The progress we've made was through visible leadership, the positive behaviour of our people, the design of our plants, facilities and products, and by implementing safe systems and procedures throughout Unilever.

But there is no such thing as a 'tolerable' level of accidents. The only acceptable aim is zero accidents.

Vision Zero

The right to a safe and healthy work environment is non-negotiable. We are transforming safety with our Vision Zero strategy which underpins everything we do as a business. It aims for:

  • zero fatalities
  • zero injuries
  • zero motor vehicle accidents
  • zero process incidents
  • zero tolerance of unsafe behaviour and practices.

One fatality is one too many

We are sorry to report that we lost one of our colleagues through a road accident in Mexico in 2017. Accidents of this kind are what our procedures and policies are intended to prevent, and we are sharing the lessons from this sad incident across the business.

How we're making people safer

Throughout our business, we're building on the culture we've created over many years by adding capability, building professionalism and reinforcing leadership responsibility.

Our safety programme

In 2017, we continued to strengthen the pillars of our safety programme, described in detail in Making our safety vision a reality:

  • prioritising safe travel and transport
  • behaviour-based safety
  • process safety
  • machinery safety
  • contractor and construction safety.

Accountable, responsible, visible - our approach to leadership

Our commitment to safety comes from the most senior levels in our organisation, including our CEO. Ultimate responsibility for our safety performance rests with the Unilever Leadership Executive (ULE). The Chief Supply Chain Officer is a member of the ULE and is charged with ensuring that safety is championed as a regular part of the ULE agenda.

In addition to regular reviews among the ULE, the Unilever Board’s Corporate Responsibility Committee also reviews a safety progress scorecard and conducts regular in-depth discussions with our Safety leaders. This level of review and analysis of our performance ensures that safety gets the attention it needs to become embedded in the organisation.

Helping our leaders 'walk the talk'

Our training programmes aim to ensure our leaders understand and implement the safety culture we want to create. In 2016, we introduced a mandatory safety training programme for all Unilever leaders who manage a team. The training is designed to give them the skills and knowledge they need to ensure that everyone on their team gets to go home safely every day. It underlines the importance of them ‘walking the talk’ on safety, every minute of every day.

Our safety policies and standards

We believe a safe working culture has to be founded on clear policies and standards that everyone understands.

Our Health and Safety Policy

Our global Health and Safety Policy and Mandatory Standards are based on the international standard OHSAS 18001.

They guide our management systems, along with Mandatory Standards and Best Practice Guidelines on individual aspects of health and safety. All these are made available to all Unilever locations worldwide through our intranet.

We also collate safety data from each of our sites to give us an overview of our performance and ensure we continue to use best practice at all times. This information is shared globally through our Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) team members, who work closely with their local leadership teams.

The local teams are supported, in turn, by our senior health and safety professionals who meet regularly as the Unilever Group Safety and Health Leadership Team. Their role is to:

  • advise the leadership team on areas of focus and recommend and support specific improvement projects
  • review progress against targets and recommend remedial actions
  • follow up on serious incidents and ensure lessons learned are shared and adopted
  • share best practice and support local SHE teams.

Building a safer value chain

Our business depends on thousands of people in our supply chain – and they have just as much right to a safe workplace as our employees. We aim to drive up safety standards throughout our supply chain through our Responsible Business Partner Policy (PDF | 3MB) as well as our Responsible Sourcing Policy (PDF | 9MB) which makes providing a healthy and safe workplace a mandatory requirement for suppliers.

Details of the findings of our third-party audits of suppliers and the work we do with suppliers to remediate health and safety issues can be found in our Human Rights Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB).

Back to top


We're always looking to connect with those who share an interest in a sustainable future.


Get in touch with Unilever PLC and specialist teams in our headquarters, or find contacts around the world.

Contact us