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

Understanding & reporting on 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.

Addressing impacts

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

Identifying our salient issues has helped us prioritise how we address human rights impacts across our operations and extended supply chain.

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 rights-holders through our activities or business relationships.

This process began with an internal, cross-functional workshop facilitated by Shift. Following the UN Guiding Principles approach, we looked at a range of potential human rights impacts resulting from the types of activities we’re involved in. We then prioritised the issues likely to be the most severe, based on:

  • how grave the impacts to the rights-holder could be
  • how widespread they are, and
  • how difficult it would be to remedy any resulting harm.

We also drew on previous conversations with external bodies such as the World Economic Forum Human Rights Global Agenda Council, the Global Social Compliance Programme, AIM-PROGRESS, the UN Global Compact and others at the core of policy implementation, and held discussions with the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Advisory Council. We identified issues that were coming to the fore as the business rolled out our Responsible Sourcing Policy. We also considered issues being raised in our Global Code and Policy Committee and our Procurement Code Committee.

Reporting on our progress

Since our first Human Rights Report (PDF | 5MB) in 2015, we have reported our progress through our second Human Rights Report (PDF | 10MB), published in December 2017, and in 2018 through a film showing highlights of our progress and by providing examples at a country and global level. We have also reported data and analysis of our supplier audits through our Human Rights Supplier Audit Updates in 2018 (PDF | 4MB) and 2019 (PDF | 4MB).

In 2019 we continued to make progress in responding to our global salient human rights issues, as below. However, we know that salient issues vary from region to region – which is why we’ve run a series of regional stakeholder consultations to identify specific salient issues relevant to each market. This work will inform our efforts in 2020.

Working to respect human rights in a fast-changing world: what we did in 2019

Marcela Manubens

Marcela Manubens, Global Vice President, Integrated Social Sustainability.

Respecting Human Rights is essential to Unilever’s ambition of “making sustainable living commonplace.” And sustainable business growth will only be achieved with prosperous, thriving communities where human rights are upheld. Events in 2019 reflect a regression in the respect for, and promotion of, human rights. New social challenges continue to arise; and to meet them, we will need to ‘innovate rights’ to ensure that this new context does not erode the fundamental value of respect for each and every individual.

Environmental conditions and political and social crises continue to drive an increase in borderless workers, and in refugees seeking better legal protections and good jobs in pursuit of a better life. Yet they find themselves in the most vulnerable conditions, too often leading to modern slavery and forced labour. Our work to combat this in our supply chain is described in Action on forced labour below.

At the same time, the workplace is changing incredibly fast under the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, with huge social, economic and human impacts. The digital borderless and global workforce is the new frontier, and has created a generation of 'invisible workers'. Enabled by technology, companies are engaging consultants and contract labour globally, and at lower cost. At a recent conference, a talented young marketing professional described to me the perils of this model: extreme working hours, low and inconsistent pay and no legal protections or health benefits.

We know these changes will have a profound impact on our business. In 2019, we created and piloted internal guidance to help identify new employment opportunities as the future of work, and our business, changes. Our approach is to collaborate with other businesses, governments, trade unions, civil society and academics – to share lessons and best practices as we adapt to the way that we’ll all work in the future.

2019 also saw a huge focus on the impact of plastics. The environmental consequences of their disposal are all too clear, and we all need to shift to 'less plastic’ and 'no plastic' solutions as well as more recycling. But let’s not forget there’s also a social impact to these changes: plastic is frequently collected by people working in the informal economy, often working under dirty and dangerous conditions and without earning adequate wages or receiving social benefits.

To help address this, we’re innovating new business models to ensure that people involved in this industry make a fair living wage. A good example is the excellent work by Prince Kwama Agbata – a Unilever Young Entrepreneur finalist – and his Coliba mobile platform, which formalises waste-pickers’ work and promotes plastic recycling.

More than ever, it’s critical that whether tackling new challenges or continuing to address the root causes of existing ones, we always take a human rights lens to everything we do. In 2020 we’ll publish a comprehensive report setting out our human rights journey over the last decade, and setting our ambitions for the future.

Progress on our salient issues in 2019

Our Human Rights 2019 Supplier Audit Update (PDF | 4MB) provides an analysis of the latest findings from our supplier audits, and of how we are addressing our salient issues on a global basis. The sections below give a snapshot of our progress against each salient issue.

Action on discrimination

human rights 1


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 2019 we:

  • Committed to becoming the #1 employer of choice for people with disabilities and to increasing the number of employees with disabilities to 5% of our total workforce by 2025.
  • Introduced global guidelines to ensure accessibility in IT, recruitment, communications and workplace design.
  • Worked with the Business Disability Forum, a disability inclusion expertise organisation, to help us design and deploy our global disability inclusion programme
  • Created our first ever global employee resource group for those with a disability, Enable@Unilever.
  • Increased the number of diverse suppliers working with our US business by 35% in 2019 (compared to 2017) and doubled our spend with diverse minority suppliers in 2019 compared to 2017. This is part of our Supplier Diversity Programme, which we launched in 2016 and which aims to increase the presence of historically under-represented groups (people of colour; women; LGBTQ+ individuals; people with disabilities; veterans) in our supply chain.

    In September 2019 we held our inaugural Partner to Win event on inclusion for senior leaders from 14 of our top US suppliers (accounting for about 30% of our business). The outcome of the event was an inclusion pledge, through which all the companies committed to actions to improve diversity and inclusion in their own organisations over the next 12 months. We will expand this programme beyond North America.

  • Continued to review the employment of temporary workers within our own operations and our extended supply chain. In our own operations we continued to work with the IUF through our Joint Working Group on the Sustainable Employment of Temporary Workers.

    When assessing suppliers, we pay particular attention to the contracts and working terms and conditions of temporary workers. In some instances, such as in the salt industry in Kenya, issues are industry-wide: in these cases we combine bilateral work with our suppliers with collaboration with other businesses and stakeholders, such as the UN Global Compact Kenya Salt Working Group, to create awareness and improve conditions across the industry.

Action on fair wages

human rights

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 2019 we:

  • Continued to implement our internal policy on the Sustainable Employment of Temporary Workers. This requires in-sourced third-party temporary workers on our manufacturing sites to be given comparable terms and conditions, including the payment of a Fair Living Wage.
  • Became Chair of the Ethical Tea Partnership Living Wage Working Group in order to drive progress on fair wages in the tea supply chain.
  • Made progress on closing the net living wage gap for tea workers in Malawi through working with others as part of the Malawi 2020 Programme. This means that tea workers on tea plantations in Malawi now earn considerably more than the country’s minimum wage. The partnership has developed a sustainable procurement model, which members of the partnership will look to replicate in other tea-sourcing locations. In 2020, an independent survey of workers will be carried out to better understand their views on the provision and quality of various in-kind benefits. The partnership will externally verify that increased payment to suppliers, linked to increased quality, will be passed on to workers.
  • Joined the World Cocoa Foundation, which aims to achieve a sustainable and thriving cocoa sector in which farmer and worker livelihoods are a key element, and the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), which promotes child protection in cocoa-growing communities. Low incomes are among the root causes of child labour.
  • Continued to work with suppliers to move from minimum to living wages. In Brazil, for example, a supplier audit observed that workers travelling to a remote location received no free transport or transport allowance, and that paying for their own transport amounted to 20% of their wages. This affected their ability to earn a wage which met their basic needs and discretionary income. Our local team discussed the issue with the supplier, and as a result, transportation is now being provided to workers.

Action on forced labour

human rights

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’, ie that no worker should pay for a job.

As part of this ongoing work, in 2019 we:

  • Drove action and engagement through events with the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment (LGRR), the Consumer Goods Forum, Humanity United and the Responsible Labor Initiative (part of the Responsible Business Alliance which we joined in 2019) in Myanmar and Malaysia. These are respectively home and destination countries for migrant workers. In our engagement with governments, labour agencies and civil society, we support calls for a professional, ethical and respectful recruitment industry and safe and secure recruitment corridors.
  • Signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to participate in the Harvesting the Future project in Turkey. The project brings together the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI), agricultural suppliers, and buyers to improve working conditions for migrants in seasonal agriculture work in Turkey. It is focused on the remediation of child labour practices, and application of fair recruitment with interventions such as awareness-raising, capacity building, grievance mechanisms, case management, and referral services. See Understanding the issues for workers in the Turkish tomato industry (PDF | 115KB).
  • Supported a prevention and remediation workshop for one of our suppliers in Malaysia to implement the Employer Pays Principle and develop a remediation plan for the reimbursement of recruitment fees to existing workers. One of the challenges in implementing the Employer Pays Principle is mapping the entire recruitment process of a worker from their home to destination country, as there are complex relationships between suppliers, brokers and agents. The ethical trade business management consultancy Impactt has helped map the recruitment journey of workers in our extended supply chain in Malaysia. It has been helpful to collaborate with another buyer in order to increase our leverage. We recognise this issue is difficult for the supplier, as the practice of fee remediation is not yet commonplace in Malaysia.
  • Commissioned Impactt to run internal training in the UAE for our Procurement and Human Resources teams, and external training for our suppliers on ethical recruitment, with a focus on recruitment fees. Participants gained insight on practices linked to potential forced labour conditions, and on how responsible business are tackling those challenges and driving best practices. As a follow-up from these training sessions, we developed a recruitment fees action plan specific to the Gulf region. We’re also implementing a global enhanced due diligence process for third-party labour agencies working on Unilever sites.

Combating modern slavery

Since 2017 we’ve documented our efforts to combat forced labour and human trafficking in our Modern Slavery Transparency Statement, as required by the UK’s Modern Slavery Act. This statement is signed off by our Board each year.

Supporting freedom of association

human rights

Freedom of association

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

As part of this work, in 2019 we: 

  • Signed a joint Commitment (PDF | 697 kB) on Sustainable Employment in Unilever manufacturing with the IUF and IndustriALL. The commitment recognises the key role of trade unions and collective bargaining in protecting and enabling fundamental worker rights, and includes agreed principles and procedures concerning the use of non-permanent employment contracts in Unilever factories.

    These principles apply to workers engaged either directly by Unilever, or through a third-party provider. They stipulate that temporary workers must have the right to freely form or join a union of the worker’s choice without any fear of intimidation or harassment, and that contract labour will not be employed in any way with the intent or impact that workers are deprived of their right to trade union membership and collective bargaining rights.

  • We are also working with the Transport Workers Federation (ITF), the IUF and FNV-Stichting VNB on improving the working conditions of the trucking industry. See Transporters: a new approach to tackling exploitation (PDF | 135KB).

Action on harassment

Human rights


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

As part of our ongoing work, in 2019 we:

  • Published Implementation Guidance to complement the Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces, a global programme which we worked with UN Women to create.
  • Continued to work in our tea plantations and with our suppliers in Kenya and Tanzania to increase women’s safety, and expanded our supplier programme in Assam, India, to ten additional suppliers. See Promoting safety for women.
  • Supported the new ILO Convention to end violence in the workplace, and will continue to lobby for its swift implementation.

Action on health & safety

human rights

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.

  • Our Code of Business Principles (PDF | 9MB) commits us to providing 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.’
  • We continue to work on improving our safety practices: the progress we've made has been through visible leadership, capability building and the positive behaviour of our people, as well as the design of our plants, facilities and products, and the implementation of safe systems and procedures. See Targets & Performance for our latest report on progress against our USLP target to reduce our Total Recordable Frequency Rate (TRFR) for accidents in our factories and offices by 50% versus 2008.
  • We have 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 relating to worker accommodation and the standards which must be met, including those relating to health and safety.

Action on respect for land rights

human rights

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 2019, we:

  • Continued the ongoing evaluation of the process we followed to set up a tea processing factory and commercial tea plantations that will support extensive smallholder tea development in South West Rwanda. This includes monitoring and responding to issues raised through the grievance process. The project is in its third year and has already established hundreds of new employment opportunities in the area, and resettled the people affected by the project to modern housing. 
  • Carried out due diligence relating to both the acquisition and selling of land. In India, for example, when we were preparing to sell a piece of unused land, we took into account that the land included a water well used in the past by the local community during times of water scarcity, and that a new project had been set up by the regional government to provide potable water access through a mains connection.
  • We engaged with the local community through the local municipal authorities to establish if the well would be needed in the future, or whether the new regional provision was sufficient. The local municipality confirmed that the water provided from the government would be sufficient, even in times of water scarcity, and this was communicated to the local community. Water had not been extracted from the well in the recent past, including during a recent seasonal drought period, and the pipe work connecting to the well had been disconnected through lack of use. 

Working hours

human rights

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 2019 we:

  • Continued to share lessons learned, including on the root causes of excessive working hours such as low pay, poor planning or scheduling, and on how to improve supply chain management, demand forecasting, and wage levels.
  • Held a supplier training session on working hours in Kenya. Our local team proposed a collaborative approach with our suppliers, holding a working hours roundtable with two audit companies. Suppliers presented their challenges in addressing the working hours issue and audit companies shared best practices from across the region. We will replicate this workshop globally. 

How we're keeping our salient rights under review

Rachel Cowburn-Walden

Rachel Cowburn-Walden, Global Director, Human Rights Stewardship, Integrated Social Sustainability.

“As well as addressing the salient issues we've identified, we know we need to keep working to make sure they’re still relevant. Are there any new, emerging issues we need to consider - such as those relating to technology or new ways of working? And if so, are these relevant everywhere?

To answer this, we are re-mapping our salient issues in each of our country clusters and large markets so we can focus our efforts on what matters most in those countries.

Critical to this process is engagement with rights-holders and their representatives, which we recognise needs to be an ongoing process and something we need to build on. In 2018, we started a review of our salient human rights issues, carrying out internal and external consultations with rights-holders and their representatives, beginning with an initial consultation in London facilitated by Shift. This included participants from civil society and worker representatives.

In 2019 we held internal and external stakeholder meetings in Kenya and Thailand, also facilitated by Shift and involving engagement with workers in our own and our suppliers' businesses. We’re also carrying out a salient issue review in Brazil. Our aim in these reviews is to explore whether our eight salient human rights issues are still the correct ones, and if so, whether the relevance of these salient issues varies according to our markets.”

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, and our Responsible Sourcing Policy and Programme, which address the endemic business and human rights issues often found in global value chains.

Our policies in action

12 fundamental principles of our responsible sourcing policy
desktop graphic

11,000 distributors risk assessed and screened

Our Responsible Sourcing Policy sets out our requirements for suppliers. Our Responsible Business Partner Policy is aligned with the RSP and sets out our requirements for distributors: our 'downstream' business partners, who work in our distribution network and related parts of our value chain.

By the end of 2019 approximately 11,000 distributors had been risk assessed and screened. To date, the top four areas of non-compliance identified through self-assessment are: discrimination; health and safety; working age; and freedom of association.

To resolve these issues, we agree a mitigation plan with the distributors and work together to build capacity and drive a better understanding and approach on ethical and responsible behaviours. In 2020, we will focus on our local customers and modern trade business partners.

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

Ensuring 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.

Listening to workers

Grievance mechanisms are the third element of the United Nations Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework and remain a vital focus of our work. They are 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 against those who raise concerns.

More information on our grievance mechanisms can be found in Advancing human rights in our own operationsAdvancing human rights with our suppliers & business partners and our Responsible Sourcing Policy (RSP) (PDF | 9MB).

Following up on complaints or concerns

We regularly monitor our internal speak-up channels for their usage levels, and we will investigate at a country level if we see unexpected activity, whether high or low, because we recognise that low usage is not necessarily an indication of employee satisfaction. We publish details of the numbers of Code cases raised on our business integrity page.

Each time a Code complaint is substantiated our Business Integrity Team will carry out a ‘lessons learned/gaps to close’ exercise. Free and independent trade unions can play a key role in enabling workers to raise complaints or concerns. Our work with trade unions is described in Working with others on Human Rights.

One example of how we process complaints is our Palm Oil grievance process. Our Grievance Procedure for Sustainable Palm Oil (PDF | 2MB) provides a systematic framework for handling, investigating and resolving both social and environmental issues within our supply chain in a timely, transparent and effective manner. In January 2019 we published a list of palm oil grievances; see our Palm oil grievance tracker (PDF | 614KB).

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.

Living out our Code commitments

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 plantation in Kericho, Kenya. Our work to advance human rights in Kericho is also discussed in our Human Rights Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB).

A strong policy framework underpins our work

We believe a strong policy framework is an essential basis for embedding human rights into our business. It helps us set clear and consistent expectations, and allows us to enforce compliance and drive positive behaviour that is aligned with our values.

Our policies also enable our employees to work with partners, governments, community leaders and other stakeholders to push standards and boundaries where needed, and help us operationalise the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) and embed them into our business.

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.

Our key policies

Policy Name


Human Rights Policy Statement (PDF | 609KB)

Articulates how we approach our responsibility to respect human rights across our value chain and helps guide how we address impacts, including remediation and governance.

Code of Business Principles (PDF | 9MB)

Describes the standards Unilever follows and provides overall direction on all our activities. States that we will “conduct our operations with honesty, integrity and openness, and with respect for the human rights and interests of our employees” and that we shall “similarly respect the legitimate interests of those with whom we have relationships”. See our approach to business integrity.

Respect, Dignity and Fair Treatment Code Policy (PDF | 170KB)

Sets out our expectations from employees and what they can expect from Unilever and each Unilever employee: an environment that promotes diversity and where there is mutual trust, respect for human rights and equal opportunity and no unlawful discrimination or victimisation. Sets out our position on fundamental human rights principles.

Responsible Sourcing Policy (RSP) (PDF | 9MB)

Aligns our purchasing standards and commitment to conduct business with integrity, openness and respect for universal human rights and core labour principles. It sets mandatory requirements and serves as a guide for our supply chain partners to begin shifting their practices from doing no harm to doing good. Based on 12 fundamental principles grounded in internationally recognised standards on respecting workers’ rights and associated issues. Our approach to responsible sourcing is described in Advancing human rights with suppliers and business partners.

Responsible Business Partner Policy (RBPP) (PDF | 8MB)

Aligns with the RSP and is focused on our downstream distribution business partners. Our approach to working with our business partners is described in Advancing human rights with suppliers and business partners.

Land Rights Policy

An internal Policy which includes principles and due diligence. Our approach to land rights is described above.

Policy on the Sustainable Employment of Temporary Workers

An internal Policy which sets out 10 Golden Standards which are guiding principles that include fair and equal treatment, gender equality, diversity and freedom of association. Our work in this area is described above.

Global Framework for Fair Compensation (PDF | 681KB)

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.

Modern Slavery Transparency Statement

Although not one of our formal policies this is an important legislative requirement.

More information on our Policies can be found in our inaugural Human Rights Report (PDF | 5MB) 2015 and Human Rights Progress Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB).

Putting our policies into action

We aim to embed our principles into business decisions by making sure we source from suppliers and business partners who adhere to our values and by pro-actively carrying out risk-mapping and on-going due-diligence. We support this work through capacity building, training and the sharing of challenges and best practice both within our own operations and in our value chain. We then use our ‘toolkit’ of three main ways to embed our policies and approach.

  • First, our Responsible Sourcing Policy includes a process of desktop and on-site audit, depending on risk.
  • This audit process is supplemented by Human Rights Impact Assessments (HRIAs). HRIAs are carried out by independent expert organisations who visit a representative sample of our own operations, our suppliers and other business partners. Engagement with workers is a key element of these assessments (PDF | 115KB).

    After each HRIA, the external expert organisation writes a report including its key findings and suggested ways to address these. The report is shared with the local leadership and the local team creates a time-bound action plan, assigning responsibility for leading on each issue and finding. This may include, for example, reviewing our local planning or purchasing practices, or running local training. Read more about our HRIAs in Guatemala, Thailand and Turkey (PDF | 115KB).

  • The third element of our toolkit is our work with others, either bilaterally with our suppliers, or through industry or other multi-stakeholder initiatives. This work addresses specific issues such as the eradication of forced labour, or fair terms and conditions for temporary workers or transport workers. Find out more about how we are working to improve the working conditions of migrant workers in Turkey’s tomato industry (PDF | 115KB).

Finally, we continue to support the strengthening of certification programmes, particularly in their social dimension, in order to increase their focus on implementation, on the proactive identification of issues, and on root-cause analysis.

Making sure we learn from our findings

When our processes identify an instance of a salient issue, such as excessive working hours or discrimination, we use the findings about how the issue was identified and how it was resolved to increase awareness among our internal teams and our suppliers.

We use training and case studies to illustrate good practice remediation and to show the root causes of issues, such as low pay leading to excessive working hours. An example of this is our development of question cards to help Procurement teams identify issues when they visit suppliers' manufacturing facilities.

Working with employees to ensure compliance

Responsibility for compliance

Our senior managers have day-to-day responsibility for implementing our Code Policies in each of our geographies, divisions, functions and operating companies. They are supported by local Business Integrity Committees.

Compliance is subject to review by the Board, supported by the Corporate Responsibility Committee and, for financial and accounting issues, the Audit Committee.

We run a wide range of training on compliance and integrity, and training on our Respect, Dignity and Fair Treatment Code Policy is part of our annual Code refresher training. Our internal Integrated Social Sustainability online hub contains our key policy publications and reports, and best practice guidance documents. Where needed, we also run targeted offline training as well as short training reminders that we call Integrity Moments.

Training our people on responsible business & human rights

Rachel Cowburn-Walden

Rachel Cowburn-Walden, Global Director, Human Rights Stewardship, Integrated Social Sustainability.

“We'll only succeed in embedding human rights across our business if everyone understands how, and why, they matter in their day-to-day jobs. That means creating and delivering training that brings the issues to life – and brings home exactly what our people need to do.

In 2019 we ran various training sessions related to our Responsible Sourcing Policy (RSP) and Responsible Business Partner Policy (RBPP). A good example is our training on how to respond to ‘red flags’ that we ran for our Procurement team and Business Integrity Officers. Red flags are issues of concern relating to our suppliers or other business partners following initial desktop assessments, and this training focused on combating bribery and corruption.

Then, as well as refresher webinars on our RSP, we created RSP champions in our Procurement team. These champions will act as the first contact point for their colleagues, helping to strengthen implementation of the RSP and our ongoing due diligence.

We also created a new training series on business and human rights, aimed at colleagues from Procurement and from brand marketing. We piloted this in the USA and Singapore with the aim of rolling it out globally in 2020. We worked with expert external organisations to create a short film introducing business and human rights, and a web-based learning programme building awareness about our salient human rights issues and how we’re responding to them.

We also developed a face-to-face training module which makes clear the relevance and significance of our policies to those who need to implement them, and how everyday decisions such as purchasing practices and supplier choices can affect human rights.”

A governance structure that ensures leadership from the top

Our commitment to respect human rights is led from the top.

Human rights governance

Our respect for human rights is overseen by Unilever’s Chief Executive Officer and supported by the Unilever Leadership Executive – including the Chief Supply Chain Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Legal Officer – as well as the Global Vice President for Integrated Social Sustainability.

Additional Board-level oversight is provided by the Corporate Responsibility Committee. At each meeting the Committee scrutinises Code Policy compliance and scorecards on the implementation of our Responsible Sourcing Policy and Responsible Business Partner Policy.

The Unilever Leadership Executive regularly discusses human rights as part of the overall Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) strategy, reviewing specific issues when the severity of an actual or potential impact is high, where a business-critical decision needs to be taken, or where substantial financial investment may be needed to address the impact.

Our Procurement Business Integrity Committee is chaired by one of our Procurement Vice Presidents and has members from Supply Chain, Procurement, Business Integrity and Legal. It reviews key performance indicators (KPIs), and advises on and determines complex cases in relation to our Responsible Sourcing Policy. One of its responsibilities is to discuss situations where a supplier is unable or unwilling to implement a corrective action plan to respond to the identification of a salient human rights issue within the required timeframe.

Laptop pink

New dashboard for faster compliance tracking

To help our Procurement leadership team track global compliance with our RSP, in 2019 our Integrated Social Sustainability team launched a new dashboard in an internal data platform, Power BI, making it faster to track compliance by supplier, region and procurement portfolios, and tracking all red flags and key incidents identified in our RSP audits.

Our external advisory board

It’s crucial that we consider independent advice and insights as we shape our thinking. Our Advisory Council is one way we bring these insights into our business.

Our Unilever Sustainability Advisory Council

The Unilever Sustainability Advisory Council comprises independent external specialists in sustainability who guide and critique the development of our strategy.

One of the specialists is John Ruggie, who from 2005-2011 was the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business & Human Rights. He created the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights, adopted unanimously by the Human Rights Council, which now constitute the global standard in this area.

See Our sustainability governance.

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.