Fairness in the workplace

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Reduced Inequalities
  • Partnership For The Goals
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  4. Understanding our human rights impacts

Understanding our human rights impacts

To make sure we’re respecting – and advancing – the human rights of everyone in our value chain, we need to be sure we understand our impacts.

Tea farmer

Addressing endemic human rights issues & their root causes

We know that human rights abuses exist in the sectors and markets in which we operate – and at times, in our own value chain. These abuses are unacceptable. We’re committed to respecting human rights, which means we need to understand the issues and where they occur. In line with the UN Guiding Principles, if through our business operations we have caused or contributed to a negative human rights impact, then we will address this, including by working with our suppliers and other business partners or through wider initiatives.

The salient issues for our business

Our salient human rights issues

In our inaugural Human Rights Report (PDF | 5MB) in 2015, we explained how, and why, we identified our eight most salient human rights issues - those human rights at risk of the most severe negative impacts to right-holders through our activities or business relationships. Identifying our salient issues has helped us prioritise how we address human rights impacts across our operations and extended supply chain. We reported our progress in our second Human Rights Report (PDF | 10MB), published in December 2017.

In this section, we report some of the highlights of our progress on these issues in 2018. See Human Rights 2018 Supplier Audit Update (PDF | 4MB) for an analysis of the latest findings from our supplier audits.

Keeping our salient issues under review

As well as addressing the salient issues we've identified, we know we need to keep working to make sure they are still relevant. We recognise that rights-holder engagement is an on going process, and we want to increase our direct engagement with stakeholders in addition to engaging with credible representatives.

In 2018, we started a review of our salient human rights issues, carrying out internal and external consultations with rights-holders and their representatives. In 2018, we held an initial consultation in London which we are following up with regional consultations. Our first regional consultation was held in Kenya with a wider Africa focus. In 2019 we are continuing with consultations in Asia, the Americas and Europe.

Our progress in 2018

What difference have we made in 2018 - and why does it matter? In this video, leaders in our business describe 2018 as a year of collaboration and driving impact at scale and describe highlights of our progress - and the challenges we continue to face. In addition, a series of videos from our leaders cover each of our eight salient human rights issues.

Action on discrimination: highlights in 2018

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Our longstanding work to tackle discrimination in the workplace is embedded in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and described in Advancing diversity and inclusion and Fair compensation. It is also an important focus in Promoting safety for women.

As part of our work on this issue, in 2018 we:

  • introduced a Global Paternity Leave Standard, enabling fathers to take three weeks of paternity leave; global roll-out will be complete in 2019
  • announced our ambition to be No.1 employer of choice for people with disabilities, and set a target to reach 5% disability inclusion in our global workforce by 2025. We've launched pilots in ten countries, and we track our progress against a scorecard of ten criteria based on Business Disability Forum’s Disability Standard
  • signed the United Nations Standards of Conduct for Business: Tackling Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans & Intersex people, which sets out actions companies can take to protect the rights of LGBTI individuals.

Action on fair wages: highlights in 2018

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Fair wages

Fair wages are the bedrock of a truly responsible and sustainable business. In 2014 we created a Framework for Fair Compensation for all our direct employees which included our commitment to be a living wage employer. Our approach and progress are described in Fair compensation.

As part of our commitment to fair wages, in 2018:

  • across our total employee population, we reduced the number of employees being paid less than a living wage to 611 people in 16 countries. This is down from 7,252 across 37 countries in 2017. We’re working with our HR teams to ensure that all our businesses comply with all five principles of our Framework by 2020
  • we worked with our tea suppliers in Malawi, helping them to improve quality and become more competitive, with the aim of ensuring that higher prices result in higher wages via an externally auditable and measurable mechanism.

Action on forced labour: highlights in 2018

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Forced labour

As the nature of employment around the world continues to change, with borderless labour, increasing focus on flexibility and the gig economy - the rights of workers are increasingly at risk, including through modern slavery and forced labour.

Temporary workers, for example, can be subject to differing labour conditions and compensation, particularly if recruited through labour agencies. We have identified temporary labour as an area of focus both in our own operations and our extended supply chain, and addressing labour rights is core to our work in implementing our Responsible Sourcing Policy (RSP). A key element of our work is our commitment to the “Employer Pays Principle” that no worker should pay for a job.

As part of this ongoing work, in 2018 we:

  • rolled out our internal Policy and process for the Sustainable Employment of Temporary Workers; it sets out 10 Golden Standards, which are guiding principles that include fair and equal treatment, gender equality, diversity and freedom of association
  • worked to develop the right level of oversight of our third-party labour agencies and brokers, checking that they are compliant with our Responsible Sourcing Policy (PDF | 8MB) which requires that workers should not be required to pay a fee in connection with obtaining employment (including migrant workers or recruited workers supplied through an agency); that suppliers should be responsible for payment of all fees and expenses and; that workers are not required to pay deposits in relation to their employment. We continued work on improving the vetting process
  • reviewed our country risk rating for our suppliers, classifying more countries as higher risk; this results in additional onsite audits
  • expanded our cross-industry supplier capacity building, including in China, and worked with organisations including the International Labour Organization, International Organization for Migration, Leadership Group for Ethical Recruitment and the Consumer Goods Forum to promote best practices
  • worked with governments including the Argentinian Government as President of the G20 and B20, and the United Kingdom Government through their Human Rights Advisory Group, Business Against Slavery Working Group and others. This means that we help support change at scale across countries and industries, rather than just our own extended supply chain.

Eradicating forced labour & human trafficking

We identified forced labour and human trafficking as a salient issue for our business in 2014. Since then, we’ve included guidelines on preventing forced labour and human trafficking in our policy framework, including in our Human Rights Policy Statement, our Code of Business Principles, our Code’s Respect, Dignity and Fair Treatment Policy, our Responsible Sourcing Policy and our Responsible Business Partner Policy.

Recognising that the following are indicators of forced labour - retention of personal documents, restriction of freedom of movement outside of work hours and the requirement for workers to stay at and pay for accommodation provided by the Company, these are prohibited by our business.

Following the publication of our first Modern Slavery Statement (PDF | 3MB) in January 2017, we published an updated Statement (PDF | 3MB) in April 2018 and in April 2019 (PDF | 3MB). The Statement covers Unilever PLC and Unilever N.V. and their group companies, with reporting companies proceeding with their own board approvals according to the Act. It is endorsed by our CEO, and we share our progress in yearly update statements.

Collaboration is an essential part of eradicating forced labour from supply chains. As well as working with suppliers, we work with industry groups including the Consumer Goods Forum.

“When it comes to eradicating forced labour, there’s no time to waste."

Marc Engel

Marc Engel, our Chief Supply Chain Officer and member of the Unilever Leadership Executive.

“All over the world, victims of forced labour are coerced or deceived into jobs which they cannot leave. Forced labour can take many forms, but each time someone is working or providing a service against their freedom of choice and cannot leave without penalty or the threat of penalty, it’s forced labour.

We've strengthened our efforts to eradicate forced labour through a number of activities, in our own business and through collaboration with others. Our Modern Slavery Statement (PDF | 3MB) explains the steps we’ve taken to prevent, detect and respond to slavery, human trafficking and forced labour throughout our business and extended supply chain. We’ve defined a roadmap to strengthen our efforts and we’re supporting it through training programmes to build capacity. It’s a fundamental principle of our Responsible Sourcing Policy that work is conducted on a voluntary basis.

At the same time, we realise that it will take a collaborative approach to eradicate forced labour from global supply chains. We’re a member of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), which is helping to drive work in this area, including advocacy and capacity building. In December 2016, we supported the CGF’s three Priority Industry Principles. These were produced to help prioritise action on the primary drivers of forced labour within the consumer goods industry and beyond.

We’re also working with our suppliers: over 2016–2017, around 1,000 suppliers were trained in Turkey, Dubai, India, Bangkok and Malaysia on eradicating forced labour and responsible management of migrant labour, including those in our extended supply chain.”

For more details, see Working with others on human rights.

Supporting freedom of association: highlights in 2018

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Freedom of association

Our longstanding commitment to Freedom of Association and our work with trade unions, including through our joint working groups, is described in Working with others on human rights.

As part of this work, in 2018 we: 

  • signed a joint memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Unilever, the IUF and IndustriALL Global Union, recognising the IUF and IndustriALL Global Union as the internationally representative bodies of unionised workers within our worldwide operations. The MOU underlines our commitment to ensure that throughout our worldwide operations workers can freely exercise their internationally recognised rights and in particular their rights to union membership and collective bargaining without fear of retaliation, repression or any other form of discrimination. We also recognise our obligation to act to ensure that these rights are similarly respected in our extended supply chain
  • created a new Guidance Document to accompany our Responsible Sourcing Policy specifically designed to address working conditions in the trucking industry.


Lorry in the dark

Tackling working conditions in the trucking industry

Our business relies on logistics operators to keep our supply of raw materials moving and to provide vital links between our factories and our customers. But we know that by its nature, the trucking industry can be a challenging sector in which to implement responsible sourcing policies.

That's why we've worked with the Transport Workers Federation (ITF) to address poor working conditions in transportation. Our new Guidance Document, aimed specifically at transporters was piloted in 2018. It builds on the principles of our Responsible Sourcing Policy and uses the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct as its Framework.

We also introduced a new pre-tender questionnaire for trucking suppliers so that we could gain better insights into conditions. Beginning in Europe, we're piloting the new approach while engaging with others, including industry colleagues. We aim to learn from the pilot before rolling out the approach to improve conditions within the trucking sector more widely.

This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goal

  • Decent Work and Economic Growth)

Action on harassment: highlights in 2018

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Unilever will not tolerate harassment in any form, and our approach to this issue is described in Promoting safety for women.

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Women trained in entrepreneurship skills on tea plantations in Kenya

As part of our ongoing work, in 2018 we:

  • worked with UN Women to develop A Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces (PDF | 7MB), building on the experience of programmes in our own tea plantations and those of our suppliers. We launched this on 10 December 2018. In 2019 we are publishing detailed implementation guidance and launching the Framework in our operations and with our suppliers. You can hear more about this in this video
  • carried out a progress review with UN Women of our safety programme in our tea plantations in Tanzania. The objective of the review was to identify opportunities for strengthening the safety programme and extending it to the smallholder farmers and the community in which the business operates. The programme targets 6,000 plantation workers and their children and 1,000 women smallholder farmers with training on how to address and report all forms of violence, including gender-based violence and sexual harassment 
  • trained 2,282 women in Kenya on financial opportunities; establishing small businesses such as sorghum planting or bakeries helps to reduce the risk factor of financial dependence associated with gender-based violence. Working with UN Women we addressed social norms and attitudes and strengthening self-help groups
  • held consultation and feedback meetings with women tea workers and growers in Assam, India.

Zero tolerance

Zero tolerance of any form of discrimination, including sexual harassment, is embedded in the policies that govern our operations and value chains. These include our Code of Business Principles (PDF | 3MB), our Respect, Dignity and Fair Treatment Code Policy, our Responsible Sourcing Policy (PDF | 9MB) and our Responsible Business Partner Policy (PDF | 8MB).

Action on health & safety: highlights in 2018

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Health & safety

Safety is a non-negotiable commitment, shared by everyone at Unilever. Our approach and performance are described in detail in Building a safer business. We also work to improve Employee health, nutrition and well-being.

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Accidents per million hours worked in 2018
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Improvement in process safety in 2018

As part of our work in 2018, we:

  • continued to reduce our accident rate, achieving our lowest-ever performance of 0.69 accidents per million hours worked (measured by Total Recordable Frequency Rate (TRFR))
  • achieved a marked improvement in process safety, reducing incidents by 39.5%
  • improved our construction safety accident rate (from 0.82 to 0.73 as measured by Total Recordable Frequency Rate TRFR). We also continued our improvement of project contractors’ lost-time injuries, reducing them from 0.33 to 0.31 per million hours worked (measured by Lost Time Injuries Frequency Rate LTIFR). This meant that over 2014−2018, LTIFR dropped by 51%. To boost this momentum, we recruited a senior construction safety professional to lead our global effort
  • continued to focus on safe driving by identifying risky behaviour and providing training whilst listening to our drivers on key safety issues. In 2018, there was no recordable serious injury where use of a mobile phone was found to be a contributing factor in a road accident, and road-related collisions resulting in employee injuries dropped to 11
  • continued to work with suppliers to improve health and safety, which remains the biggest non-conformance with our Responsible Sourcing Policy identified by supplier audits; this included issuing guidance for our suppliers to help them create effective health and safety committees, which enable workers to raise concerns and give their views on improvements needed.

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Action on respect for land rights: highlights in 2018

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Land rights

Land is the basis of millions of people’s livelihoods. Legal or customary rights to land protect those livelihoods and provide a platform on which many forms of sustainable development can be built. That makes it vital that we are aware of the impact that our business can have.

As part of our work on this issue in 2018, we:

  • began operationalising our Global Land Rights Principles and Implementation Guidance, starting in our own operations, and held awareness raising and capacity-building webinars to support their use.

We put our Land Rights Principles into action in Rwanda, where Unilever successfully bid for a Rwandan Government concession to set up a tea processing factory and commercial tea estates that will support extensive smallholder tea development in South West Rwanda. This project will transform one of the poorest areas of Rwanda by creating around 1,000 jobs and providing financial and agricultural support to smallholder farmers, who will provide 70% of the tea produced.

The land for the core estate and factory site is leased by Unilever and was expropriated by the Government for the project. As a condition of the bid, we required that land acquisition and resettlement would be implemented in line with International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standards, in particular Performance Standard 1: Assessment and Management of Environmental and Social Risks, and Impacts and Performance Standard 5: Land Acquisition and Involuntary Resettlement.

We worked closely with the Government during their expropriation process. We used external experts to independently verify that the Resettlement Action Plan (including the Livelihoods Restoration Plan and Grievance Mechanism) properly ensured that potentially affected persons and communities were identified and engaged.

This included a risk-mapping plan and a socio-economic survey focusing on vulnerable groups to ensure that no one in local communities is left worse off by the project. New model villages with infrastructure were constructed by the Government, together with livelihood support programmes. Unilever gives priority for employment to people affected by the project. Due diligence around this work is ongoing and we’ve put in place a local Unilever Welfare Manager to work with communities and local authorities.

Land rights

Land rights are a salient issue for all aspects of our business, including operational considerations such as the siting of factories or offices. But it is our extended supply chain that gives rise to the most opportunity to have a positive impact in this area, as well as the most risk.

Respect for land rights is part of our overall policy framework: it is one of the 12 Fundamental Principles of our Responsible Sourcing Policy and one of the commitments in our Responsible Business Partner Policy.

In 2017, we created Land Rights Principles and Implementation Guidance. Beginning with our own operations, we’re using awareness-raising and capacity-building materials to roll out these Principles and Guidance.

Working hours: highlights in 2018

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Working hours

Excessive working hours and inadequate periods of rest can damage workers' health and increase the risk of accidents. In many parts of the world, there is a significant link between low wages and excessive working time.

Some of our work in this area is described in Building a safer business, and Improving employee health, nutrition and well-being. And we know that working hours continues to be one of the most challenging areas of our Responsible Sourcing Policy for our suppliers to address.

In 2018, we:

  • continued to work with suppliers to address both excessive working hours and their root causes, for example low pay
  • helped suppliers improve production processes, including through planning, employing additional workers, and changing shift patterns including new rotation systems.

How we’re embedding human rights

Our Integrated Social Sustainability Team is responsible for setting and implementing our human rights strategy and advocacy across Unilever.

Led by Marcela Manubens as Global Vice President, our team now has members in each Unilever regional cluster of countries. They support the implementation of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) Fairness in the Workplace ambitions, including the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, our Responsible Sourcing Policy and Programme, and address the endemic business and human rights issues often found in global value chains.

Human rights at the heart of our RSP

Our Responsible Sourcing Policy (RSP) embodies our commitment to conduct business with integrity, openness and respect for universal human rights and core labour principles. It sets mandatory requirements on human and labour rights for suppliers who have a business relationship with Unilever - based on 12 Fundamental Principles that are closely aligned with our salient human rights issues.

The 12 fundamental principles

Read more about how our RSP is helping us in Advancing human rights with suppliers and business partners.

Ensuring that grievance mechanisms are effective, trusted & used

Alongside worker representation, effective grievance mechanisms play an important part in hearing the voices of workers in our business and throughout our supply chain. This is the third element of the United Nations Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework and remains a vital focus of our work.

Grievance mechanisms open channels for dialogue, problem solving and investigation, and, when appropriate, providing remedy. We use grievance mechanisms to help us identify wider trends, so we can develop country-specific solutions and pre-emptive actions to prevent negative impacts. Safeguarding the rights of everyone to raise a concern or grievance is vitally important and we will not accept any type of retaliation.

More information on our grievance mechanisms can be found in Advancing human rights in our own operations, Advancing human rights with our suppliers & business partners and our Responsible Sourcing Policy (RSP) (PDF | 28MB).

Willing to listen, learn & improve

We welcome stakeholders who contact us with their concerns and aim to be open in our response. We realise that in running a business of the size and scale of Unilever, we will not always get things right. We want to hear from people who have concerns, learn from our mistakes and make improvements that help us make a positive social impact.

It is an approach that is embedded in our business values – Our Code of Business Principles commits us to running our operations with honesty, integrity and openness. We aim always to investigate, understand and discuss any issues of concern and respond. Given our size and the long reach of our supply chain, some of the issues people raise are complex. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address them – but where issues are systemic or endemic, we don’t claim to have all the answers, and often we need to work with others to resolve them.

We discuss some of the issues that stakeholders have raised with us on our website in What matters to you. These include stakeholders’ concerns about a breach of our environmental operating guidelines at our former thermometer factory at Kodaikanal, India and over safety for women in our tea plantations in Kericho, Kenya. Our work to advance human rights in Kericho is also discussed in our Human Rights Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB).

Working with the OECD to resolve issues

We support the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which provide voluntary principles and standards for responsible business conduct in a variety of areas, including employment and industrial relations. The Guidelines take the form of recommendations addressed by governments to multinational enterprises.

The OECD’s conciliation process

OECD National Contact Points seek to resolve issues through amicable discussion to the satisfaction of all parties involved – a process the OECD describes as conciliation.

If conciliation fails, complaints are referred to the second stage in the process – mediation – in which an independent facilitator takes a more formal role in brokering an agreement.

Should this also fail, the national contact point issues a statement or makes a recommendation. Inherent in the OECD process is an investigation of the facts in order to validate the substance of the complaint.

Between 2006 and 2009, four complaints were brought to Unilever’s attention by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), all relating to our operations in India and Pakistan. These complaints concerned site closure (Sewri factory, India), freedom of association and collective bargaining (Doom Dooma, India), and the use of temporary and contracted labour at our factories in Pakistan (Rahim Yar Khan and Khanewal). A further complaint was submitted by the Turkish transport union TUMTIS in 2008.

The unions referred their complaints to the OECD’s National Contact Points in the UK and Turkey for investigation. We agreed to cooperate fully with the OECD process to seek resolution of the cases. A series of meetings took place and resolution of each case was either agreed as part of a conciliation process or a negotiated settlement at the local level. Since these cases, we have implemented a range of actions across our business, including the development of guidelines and training, a review of our use of contract labour, and more dialogue with our stakeholders.

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