Opportunities for women

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Gender Equality
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Partnership For The Goals
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  4. Promoting safety for women

Promoting safety for women

Violence and discrimination can blight women’s lives and hold them back from playing a full part in the workplace, society and the economy. We’re taking action to improve women’s rights and safety in the communities in which we operate.

Woman walking with cow

Safe working cultures, stronger communities

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Women have suffered physical or sexual violence in their lifetime

We are committed to respecting and promoting women’s rights, which includes the right to safety of women and girls.

Women have the right to be free from violence, harassment and discrimination. Removing the barriers of an unsafe environment can help women fulfil their potential as individuals and as contributors to work, communities and economies. But the World Health Organization estimates that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.1 The importance of protecting women’s rights is recognised in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those on Gender Equality (SDG 5) and Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8).

We’re promoting safety for women in our workplaces and our extended supply chain. Our aim is to implement policies and processes that women trust, with an emphasis on addressing the harmful social and cultural norms and behaviours that can leave women at risk. This is a moral obligation, and we know it is essential if our business is to maintain the trust and reputation we aspire to.

There cannot be real inclusion of women in society if women are subject to violence and harassment. We have a duty and opportunity to use our influence to expose and drive out intolerable behaviours and work together to promote a respectful environment.

Marcela Manubens, our Global Vice President, Integrated Social Sustainability

Zero tolerance of harassment

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 | 5MB), our Respect, Dignity and Fair Treatment Code Policy, our Responsible Sourcing Policy (PDF | 9MB) and our Responsible Business Partner Policy (PDF | 3MB).

We continue to revise and evolve our codes in order to address specific forms of harassment, including policies covering sexual harassment (for example, see below: Working with unions to prevent sexual harassment), child protection and violence prevention. Our zero tolerance of discrimination is described further in Fairness in the workplace.

Combating violence & discrimination

As well as our wider work in challenging harmful gender norms we work closely with partners, including suppliers, to address women’s safety and combat discrimination. This work is underpinned by our:

  • policies and codes of conduct
  • Code of Business Principles compliance and performance management systems
  • grievance mechanisms, awareness-raising and training.

Partnerships to promote women's safety

We work with partners from a wide range of sectors, including government authorities, UN Women and other UN agencies, women’s organisations, suppliers and others. This includes our work with the HeForShe movement as a corporate IMPACT 10x10x10 Champion.

A good example of collaboration is our partnership with UN Women EVAW (Ending Violence Against Women). Announced in December 2016, it’s designed to develop a human rights-based intervention programme across our tea supply chain.

The programme aims to ensure that women and girls are socially, economically and politically empowered, which includes freeing them from violence. It began with a progress review of our women’s safety programme in our tea plantation in Kericho, Kenya. We then extended it to a supplier partnership in Assam, India in 2017. We’re aiming to publish a Global Framework on Women’s Safety in 2019 and to implement it across our supply chain, expanding it into the wider tea industry and other commodities over time.

A track record of commitment

1995: Code of Business Principles introduced, containing zero tolerance of discrimination

2000: Founder member of the UN Global Compact

2011: Endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

2013: Endorsed the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles

2016: Announced our partnership UN Women EVAW (Ending Violence Against Women)

2016: Signed agreement with unions IndustriALL and IUF committing to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

2017: Established new partnership in Assam with UN Women and our supplier McLeod Russel to strengthen women’s rights on tea estates

A new partnership in Assam

Women make up half of Assam’s 6 million-strong tea workforce and perform the crucial, labour-intensive task of plucking tea leaves. But they are too often subjected to violence and further denied their rights by inadequate, or non-existent, grievance mechanisms and safe spaces. At the same time, men dominate the better-paid clerical and managerial positions in the plantations, with promotional opportunities denied to women. We’ve set up a new partnership to address this violence.


Woman's hands holding tea leaves

Tackling gender-based violence in Assam

Although we do not own tea estates in Assam, they are a vital part of our supply chain. So in 2017, working with our suppliers, we began a new programme in Assam’s Udalguri District. Its aim is to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, including sexual harassment in tea estates and surrounding communities.

The partnership between Unilever, UN Women and our supplier McLeod Russel is part of our work with UN Women to develop a Global Framework on Women’s Safety. The programme builds on existing initiatives to strengthen women’s rights in the tea estates, such as mothers clubs and adolescent girls clubs, and takes a step-by-step approach to include the community.

The programme is in its early stages, but in 2017 it included awareness-raising sessions with 169 women and girls, a scoping study that included 140 people in six tea estates, and a range of workshops and stakeholder consultations. As a result, action plans developed together with the local women have been put in place to prevent gender-based violence and harassment. We plan to use the findings to help create a sustainable model that further promotes women’s safety and can be used in other regions and countries.

Our Safety for Women & Girls Programme, Kenya

Up to 50,000 people live in our company villages on our tea estate in Kericho, Kenya, where we employ more than 12,000 permanent workers and 4,000 seasonal workers. In 2013, we commissioned an extensive independent review following allegations of sexual harassment there in 2010 and 2013.

We have implemented the review’s recommendations at Kericho and created our Safety for Women & Girls Programme. It includes expanding and strengthening our management team and increasing the proportion of female team leaders.

We’ve instituted policies on sexual harassment, child protection, and violence prevention and management, all developed with the participation of local employees and community representatives. And we have conducted different types of training for management, employees, village elders and specialised groups such as medical personnel. We’ve also improved our grievance reporting process with a dedicated, confidential, toll-free and local language hotline. Once a month, our Friday Safety Talks focus on sexual harassment and related topics.

UN Women carried out a progress review of this programme as part of our partnership to develop a Global Framework on Women’s Safety. They are advising us on behaviour and social norms change interventions and are working with smallholder farmers too. This has helped to strengthen our programme and adapt it to other countries and regions.

In Kenya, our membership of the Gender Empowerment Platform involves work with the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) to exchange best practices and share knowledge with the wider tea industry. We’re also working with the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), and our supplier, the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), which is the largest tea producer in Kenya with 66 factories and more than half a million smallholder farmers. Through ETP’s partnership with the KTDA, 1,000 managers, supervisors and members of staff out of a total KTDA workforce of 9,000 have been trained on stopping discrimination and harassment.

For more information on our work on safety in Kericho, see Kericho tea estates and our Human Rights Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB).

Working with unions to prevent sexual harassment

We also work with partners to prevent sexual harassment in our operations. In 2017, following a joint commitment signed by Unilever, the IUF union and IndustriALL, the IUF produced a booklet called ‘No Place for Sexual Harassment at Unilever’. This is designed to help IUF members understand the roles of workers, unions and management in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, and is described on page 38 of our 2017 Human Rights Report (PDF | 10MB). We also ran a range of initiatives on our sites in 2017 to raise awareness and enhance training to combat this issue.


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