Opportunities for women

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Gender Equality
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Partnership For The Goals

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

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Of global GDP: the cost of violence against women

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

While it’s hard to put a price on the emotional and physical impact of violence on women’s health and well-being, research suggests the cost of violence against women each year is around US$1.5 trillion– that’s an estimated 2% of global GDP.

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’s 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

Our key policies

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 | 9MB), our Respect, Dignity and Fair Treatment Code Policy, our Responsible Sourcing Policy (PDF | 9MB) and our Responsible Business Partner Policy (PDF | 8MB).

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.

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.

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

2018 With our support, UN Women created A Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces

2019 Published Guide to Support the Implementation of the Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces

A new framework for women’s safety

We took the next step in developing our approach in 2018. As a result of work in Assam and experience in Kenya, UN Women, with our support, created A Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces (PDF | 7MB). This was published in December 2018 and is being made available to the global tea industry and other value chains, supported by a practical Guide on implementation which was published in 2019.

More details can be found in the videos below explaining our work in Assam and Kenya.

Working 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 partnership to address this violence.


OfW Safety Assam Spotlight Women jugnoo

Addressing gender-based violence in Assam

Although we do not own tea estates in Assam, they are a vital part of our supply chain. 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.

Leadership is important in this effort, as our Procurement Manager Daleram Gulia explains, “Women workers are our most valuable resource. They are also someone’s daughter, mother or sister. Safety and feeling safe is a basic human right in a place of work – and in all spaces. Everyone should be treated with respect.”

The partnership between Unilever, UN Women and our supplier McLeod Russel is part of Unilever’s global partnership with UN Women.

Our current programme in Assam 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. For example, over 2017−2018 we set up Women Empowerment Clubs (WECs) in six tea estates, training 76 women on the prevention and response to domestic violence, civil recourse through national laws, and on sexual harassment in the workplace. These women are now the change agents in their estates and run awareness-raising sessions, reaching more than 1,600 women working on the estates in 2018.

The programme aims to create systemic change by addressing gender inequality and fostering a multi-stakeholder approach to end gender-based violence. It helps to create sustained change by promoting favourable social norms, attitudes and behaviours to prevent violence against women, for example through comprehensive prevention programmes for elementary school children in the estates.

This video explains the details of this holistic approach to addressing gender-based violence.

Experience in Assam will help inform the creation of a sustainable model that further promotes women’s safety and can be used in other regions and countries.

This work contributes to the following Sustainable Development Goal

  • Gender Equality)

Our Safety for Women & Girls Programme, Kenya

Our largest tea plantation is in Kericho, Kenya. It covers over 8,700 hectares of land and employs around 10,000 workers during the peak tea-picking season. 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’ve 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.

By 2019, more than 10,750 women had been able to access the programme.

We’re ensuring that all workers in Kericho – women and men – know how to report any cases of violence, harassment, or human rights abuses, and understand that they’re supported by Unilever and protected by the law.

Winfridah Nyakwara, our Integrated Social Sustainability Manager, Unilever Africa

UN Women carried out a progress review of this programme as part of our partnership to develop A Global Framework on Women’s Safety in Rural Spaces (PDF | 7MB). They’re 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. Find out more in this video.

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 plantations 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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