Fairness in the workplace

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Partnership For The Goals

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 – & 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. Any employee should be able to live and work free from the risk of injuries or accidents.

These rights are reflected in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 3 on Good Health and Well-being includes the global effort to halve road deaths and injuries by 2020. 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).

We recognise that our business has a responsibility, not only to our 150,000 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 it’s a business imperative too, since our commercial success depends on the trust people place in us.


In the face of Covid-19, we’re taking action across a number of fronts to help protect the lives and livelihoods of our multiple stakeholders – including our consumers and communities, our customers and suppliers and our workforce. We’ve put in place a set of measures to support global and national efforts to tackle the pandemic.

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 safety mission.

Safety: a human right at the heart of our business

Health and safety is one of our eight salient human rights issues. It’s a core target in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and it’s embedded in our codes and policies. Our Code of Business Principles (PDF | 75KB) commits us to provide safe and healthy working conditions for all our 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 is: 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 our Safety Mission makes clear, our obligations do not stop with our employees. We’re 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 and Advancing Human Rights in our extended supply chain.

Safety is a mindset: we must never stop improving

Olivier Carnet, Head of Supply Chain, SEAA, Head of Global Unilever Logistics & Global Safety

Olivier Carnet, Head of Supply Chain, SEAA, Head of Global Unilever Logistics & Global Safety

“I believe safety is and must be the first leadership value of every organisation. Caring about your people, and ensuring their well-being, is the foundation of what it means to be a sustainable business.

Our leadership, programmes, mindset and determination drive the safety of our business. But despite the significant progress we've made in reducing injuries, we’re still having serious accidents. In 2019, I’m saddened to say there were four fatalities at work in Latin America, involving two of our employees and two contractors. Two of these fatalities were the result of traffic accidents and two happened in factories.

These tragedies are not acceptable and we’re determined to prevent them by continually improving our programmes. In 2019, to demonstrate the commitment of the leadership of our organisation, we introduced a one-hour stand-down (a scheduled stop) across all Unilever’s operations worldwide to mark any fatality happening at work. Alongside this, a Unilever Leadership Executive member or the country’s General Manager will travel to the location of the fatality to review the case and the actions being taken.

Safety is first and foremost a matter of mindset. It must be integrated in every decision we make and every action we take. No one should think of it in terms of a programme that somebody else will drive within an organisation. We’re aiming for zero accidents. That doesn’t happen by chance. It requires a relentless and continuous focus in everything we do. Safety is a choice we all make at every moment of every day.”

We’re 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. Our original ambition was to achieve this by 2020, but in fact we first met this target in 2013, seven years ahead of schedule.

Safety vest woman

Accidents per million hours worked in 2019˄†

In 2019, our TRFR was 0.76˄† accidents per million hours worked, marginally up from 0.69 in 2018 (which was our best year to date). 

Our 2019 TRFR includes for the first time new acquisitions which operate as decentralised business units, as we now have processes in place to collect this data. 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. We’re committed to achieving our 'Vision Zero' strategy and are in the process of onboarding new acquisitions into our safety standards and culture. 

Compared to our baseline TRFR of 2.10 in 2008, we have made significant progress. But there is no such thing as a ‘tolerable’ level of accidents. The only acceptable aim is zero accidents. We will only continue our progress by remaining vigilant throughout our business.

˄  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

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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.

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

We continue 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
  • machinery safety
  • contractor and construction safety
  • process safety.

Accountable, responsible, visible – our approach to leadership

Our commitment to safety comes from the most senior levels in our organisation.

Responsibility for safety

Ultimate responsibility for safety performance rests with the Unilever Leadership Executive (ULE). Our Chief Supply Chain Officer, Marc Engel, 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, our Board’s Corporate Responsibility Committee has safety as one of its priorities: it reviews our safety progress scorecard at each meeting 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 even more 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 provide them with the skills and knowledge they need to ensure that everyone in their team goes home safely every day.

We continue to train our senior leaders using our in-house behaviour-based safety programme, the Executive Leadership Workshop. It is a face-to-face, full-day, highly interactive session for country-level Board members.

When we acquire new businesses, we need to make sure that their leaders are aligned with our safety principles as a vital part of integrating them into Unilever. In 2019 we defined our safety strategy and roadmap for new acquisitions, and provided intensive training for senior leaders as part of our BeSafE capability-building programme. 

Our safety policies & standards

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

Our Health & Safety Policy

Our framework is based on our Health and Safety Policy and a wide range of Mandatory Standards that align with the international standard OHSAS 18001.

Our Policy guides our management systems, supported by Mandatory Standards and Best Practice Guidelines that address individual aspects of health and safety in line with the pillars of our safety programme, described above. All these standards and guidelines are available to all Unilever locations through our intranet.

We also collate safety data from each of our sites to get 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 SHE 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 any specific improvement project
  • review progress against targets and recommend remedial actions
  • follow up on serious incidents and ensure lessons learnt are shared and adopted
  • share best practice globally.

Building a safer value chain

We are committed to ensure safety in our value chain. We drive up safety standards throughout our supply chain through our Responsible Sourcing Policy (PDF | 9MB) and our Responsible Business Partner Policy (PDF | 8MB). Both policies make a healthy and safe workplace a mandatory requirement for our suppliers and business partners. 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 2019 Human Rights Supplier Audit Update (PDF | 4MB).