Engaging with stakeholders

Stakeholder engagement is essential to grow our business and to reach the ambitious targets set out in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Engaging with stakeholders event

To succeed in our purpose of making sustainable living commonplace, we need to engage and work in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders. These include NGOs, investors, customers, consumers, suppliers, governments and regulators, and other businesses through trade associations.

Our biennial materiality assessment helps us to understand which issues are important to the business and our stakeholders, and therefore where and how to focus our engagement. By defining the needs and interests of our stakeholders, we can also evolve our strategy to better meet their expectations and focus our reporting on the issues that they care about.

We seek to understand the issues of concern and to respond openly and transparently to any questions raised about our products and the way we run our business. Our What Matters to You section contains our responses to a range of topics. They are updated regularly in line with any key developments and the emergence of new topics.

Stakeholder engagement is a crucial part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). It also underpins our external advocacy and joint working with governments, NGOs and others, to achieve ‘transformational change’ – that is, fundamental change to whole systems, not simply incremental improvements.

Our policies for transparent and responsible engagement

Our reputation for doing business with integrity and respect for others is an asset, as valuable as our people and brands. To maintain our reputation requires the highest standards of behaviour. Our Code of Business Principles and Code Policies (PDF | 9MB), set out the standards expected from all our employees. We also require third-party business partners to adhere to business principles consistent with our own.

Our Code of Business Principles and Code Policies (PDF | 149KB) underpin how we interact with governments, regulators, legislators and NGOs – as well as with Unilever employees.

In the area of Public Activities, our Code of Business Principles states that Unilever companies are encouraged to promote and defend their legitimate business interests; Unilever will co-operate with governments and other organisations – both directly and through bodies such as trade associations – in the development of proposed legislation and other regulations, which may affect legitimate business interests; and that Unilever neither supports political parties nor contributes to the funds of groups whose activities are calculated to promote party interests.

The Code Policy on Engaging Externally includes two important sections covering 'Contact with Government, Regulators and Non-Governmental Organisations' and 'Political Activities and Political Donations'. They state that only authorised and appropriately trained employees or representatives can engage with these groups (governments, regulators, legislators and NGOs) and that all interactions must be conducted:

  • In a transparent manner with honesty, integrity and openness;
  • In compliance with local and international laws;
  • In accordance with Unilever’s Values.

Employees must:

  • Be courteous, open and transparent in declaring their name, company, role, status and, for any enquiry or ‘representation’, the nature of the subject matter;
  • Take all reasonable steps to ensure the truth and accuracy of their information;
  • Keep a record of all contacts and interactions.

Compliance with the Code of Business Principles and Code Policies is an essential element in ensuring Unilever’s continued business success. The Chief Executive Officer is responsible for implementing these principles, supported by the Global Code and Policy Committee which is chaired by the Chief Legal Officer and Group Secretary.

The Committee is responsible for the oversight of the Code and Code Policies, ensuring that they remain fit for purpose and are appropriately applied. It maintains close scrutiny of the mechanisms for implementing the Code and Code Policies. This is vital as compliance is essential to promote and protect Unilever’s values and standards, and hence the good reputation of the Group. At each meeting, the Committee reviews an analysis of investigations into non-compliance with the Code and Code Policies and is alerted to any trends arising from these investigations.

Competition law and sustainability

The success of Unilever’s brands with purpose shows that consumers continue to demand more and more environmentally friendly and socially responsible products. But to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, more than individual efforts are necessary. Joint action amongst industry peers can enable critical sustainability achievements where change requires big scale or when pioneering companies risk suffering a “first-mover disadvantage” when introducing the most ambitious sustainability improvements without broader industry-backing.

Competition law defines the relevant legal framework for peer collaborations, and Unilever welcomes the European Commission’s intention to clarify the competition rules for collective initiatives promoting sustainability in supply chains and elsewhere. Unilever contributes to the Commission’s consultations on this topic and has put forward its perspective in a submission (PDF | 941KB) which highlights many examples that illustrate where industry co-operation already does or potentially can have a strong positive sustainability impact.

In July 2020, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has presented draft Guidelines for Sustainability Agreements. The Guidelines encourage legitimate competitor collaboration for more sustainable business practices, clarify which types of collective action are unlikely to restrict competition and how sustainability benefits – such as less waste or pollution or better livelihoods for farmers – can be taken account in the competition analysis.

Unilever’s contribution to the ACM’s consultation (PDF | 2MB) on the draft Guidelines welcomes their progressive and innovative approach and highlights where they could better accommodate practicalities and give more leeway for the most impactful sustainability co-operations.

How we engage with our stakeholders

Unilever interacts with a huge range of stakeholders on a daily basis. Some of our stakeholders are direct participants in our value chain and are integral to our ability to deliver sustainable growth. Others influence how we do business by setting the laws and norms within our countries of operation.

Below we broadly outline how we engage with our most important stakeholders. Further information on stakeholder engagement at a local level can be found on Unilever’s country websites.

Engaging with governments

We co-operate and engage with governments, regulators and legislators – both directly and through trade associations – in the development of proposed legislation and regulations which may affect our business interests.

Many of the key topics we engage on are captured in our biennial materiality assessment. Our participation in policy discussions are varied, covering macro topics like climate change, through to detailed product safety standards. We also proactively publish many of our company stances in the Our position on. They are updated regularly in line with any key developments and the emergence of new topics of importance to the business.

We engage with stakeholders directly as Unilever or through membership of representative organisations, including trade associations. All employees involved in political engagement must promote our corporate principles and comply with our Code of Business Principles and Code Policies (PDF | 149KB).

We do not support or fund political parties, candidates or any groups that promote party interests. No political contributions were made in 2019. We also publish this position in our Annual Report and Accounts. Our employees may offer support and contributions to political groups in a personal capacity.

When recruiting employees from the public sector, it is important to ensure that the right balance is struck between the benefit from such recruitment and avoiding potential conflicts of interest with previous employers. As such, we follow these three principles when recruiting from the public sector;

  • For any new employees we will respect confidentiality obligations and restrictive covenants included in all contracts with previous employers.
  • Unilever will agree appropriate and reasonable restrictions for new employees recruited directly from the public sector on a case by case basis. This may involve a “cooling off” period where an employee will be restricted from contacting previous colleagues.
  • These principles are in addition to Unilever’s current Code Policy on Avoiding Conflicts of Interest.

The above principles were adopted in 2017. During 2018 and 2019 they were included in recruitment training programmes.

Unilever is registered in the Transparency Register of the European Union. We comply with the US Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). The LDA website provides a searchable database of disclosure filings.

Engagement with NGOs

We are building transformational partnerships in collaboration with NGOs and other stakeholders who share our vision for a more sustainable future. This model of partnership is instrumental in improving the quality of people’s lives, achieving our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan targets and driving the growth of our business. These partnerships are often led by our Global Partnerships & Advocacy team.

In collaboration with NGOs, we build programmes on the ground to implement our brands’ social missions, in addition to advancing our efforts in areas such as sustainable sourcing and distribution – often in partnership with governments and other private sector organisations. We drive scale through new business models, digital technologies and external financing.

We recognise that our actions alone cannot achieve the system change necessary to overcome the world’s major challenges, such as climate change and poverty. Our leadership engages with stakeholders through platforms such as the World Economic Forum, UN Global Compact, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Consumer Goods Forum. This helps us in championing a more inclusive model of capitalism and the pursuit of long-term value creation for the benefit of multiple stakeholders.

Further details on our transformational change can be found in the relevant goal pages for Greenhouse gases, Water use, Waste & packaging and Sustainable sourcing.

Engaging with suppliers

Every day, we work with thousands of suppliers who are helping us achieve success in the countries where our products are sold. They help us: develop new products; drive market transformation; deliver quality and service; and create value, capacity and capability.

A significant portion of our growth comes from innovation, delivering leading-edge products into the marketplace. We anticipate that around 70% of our innovations are linked to working with our strategic suppliers. That's why we invest in long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with our key suppliers through our Partner to Win programme, so we can combine capabilities and co-innovate for shared growth.

Partner to Win is about shaping the next horizon together and is a unique opportunity to unlock value for Unilever and our partners. It helps us strengthen supplier and customer collaboration, it enables improved overall end-to-end operational efficiency and mutual capability building and sharing.

Engaging with customers

In a fragmented channel landscape, those companies that best serve their shoppers and customers with bespoke solutions will benefit most. Unilever serves consumers through ten different channels: hyper and supermarkets, e-commerce, out-of-home, drug stores, small stores, discounters, Food Solutions, Unilever International, prestige and global retail. Our products are available in around 25 million retail sales outlets.

Our ambition is to be a top supplier to all our customers across the markets we operate in with clear action plans to make this happen. We work with our customers to set out clear actions against key initiatives aimed at improving our service i.e. truckload optimisation and transit time adjustment. We monitor quantitative customer satisfaction on a quarterly basis, by country.

We work directly with large retail chains to generate insights about who visits their stores using technology that creates detailed shopper profiles. This allows us to target and personalise campaigns and develop shopper engagement programmes. Our engagement with consumers is guided by our Personal Data & Privacy Code Policy (PDF | 93KB) which sets out the steps employees must take to ensure personal data is handled appropriately.

Unilever also actively supports its customers in achieving their sustainability goals. We share our expertise in areas such as sustainable agriculture and life-cycle analysis, as well as working with them on initiatives such as shared transport networks which improve efficiency.

Engaging with consumers

Unilever’s Consumer and Market Insights (CMI) group has created People Data Centres which analyse data from social media, consumer carelines and digital marketing to respond directly to consumer feedback. We cover further information in Consumers and sustainability.

Our ambition is to build a billion one-to-one consumer relationships, leveraging our in-house People Data Centres and the opportunity they give us to connect with consumers in a meaningful way through real-time analytics.

Our engagement with consumers is guided by our Personal Data & Privacy Code Policy (PDF | 93KB) which sets out the steps employees must take to ensure personal data is handled appropriately.

Engaging with scientists

We have specific guidance on how we work with the scientific community outlined in our Position on Science and Integrity (PDF | 78KB). We are committed to investing in science and scientific research that enhances our understanding of how our products can benefit public health and wellbeing, and also how we can improve their environmental, societal and economic impact.

We adhere strongly to principles for scientific research, including scientific robustness, objectivity of scientific evidence and transparent engagement with external parties. We do not publicly report the research organisations that we fund. However, as mandated by our Position on Science and Integrity, we disclose research funding where required, for example in scientific journals which require this level of disclosure.

Engaging with communities

Our business contributes to the economic livelihoods of many people and communities across our value chain. We create direct and indirect employment opportunities; we pay taxes to governments for reinvestment in infrastructure and communities; and we make direct contributions through our corporate community investment activities in support of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Our approach to community engagement is framed by the Unilever Code of Business Principles (PDF | 9MB) which sets out our commitment to fulfil our responsibilities to the societies and communities in which we operate. Our community engagement strategy is owned and driven by our local businesses which are closest to communities and their needs.

Sometimes, business decisions or activities can affect local communities. In such cases, we are guided by a number of policies and standards. These reflect issues that can impact communities such as human rights and safety, for example ensuring communities are adequately protected in the event of a safety incident where we would identify relevant stakeholders and/or their representatives and run various community outreach activities and communications.

A recent example of our approach to community engagement is in Rwanda where we are setting up a tea processing factory and commercial tea estates. We have taken action (see ‘respect for land rights’) to ensure that potentially affected persons and communities were identified and engaged, including vulnerable groups.

Engaging with peer companies

We engage with peer companies, both individually, in coalitions, and through trade associations on issues of mutual interest. This includes working together to implement sustainable business strategies and drive policy agendas which contribute to systems change.

Engaging with trade associations

We aim to use our scale and influence to help bring about transformational change in areas where we can make the biggest difference and which are aligned with our business activities. We see trade associations as a valuable resource for increasing knowledge of industry practices and trends, as well as engaging on policy topics.

We are a member of many associations around the world, reflecting our global scale and presence across several product divisions.

Our internal Standard on Trade Association Memberships provides the internal governance and framework for our interactions with trade associations and similar groups. It helps to ensure compliance with our Code of Business Principles and Code Policies (PDF | 9MB).

The Standard applies to our membership of any organisations whose principal function is to advocate to government and other stakeholders on behalf of the business, or any subsidiary company or that provides platforms for industry and other stakeholders to discuss issues of common concern, or that provides opportunities for our business to engage with our customers and/or competitors on industry issues.

The Standard sets out the internal governance for the approval to join or leave an association and the factors we consider, including their strategic fit with our corporate purpose, values and positions. The Standard also stipulates the role and requirements related to Unilever representatives in trade associations, for example all staff participating in association meetings are required to complete a competition law training module. We appoint trade association co-ordinators in each country to ensure the Standard is followed.

Trade Association Memberships

Our main global, European and US trade associations are listed below.

Unilever is also registered in the Transparency Register of the European Union. Our entry is available here, which includes a list of trade associations with whom Unilever is affiliated. We comply with lobbying disclosure requirements, including the US Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). The LDA website provides a searchable database of lobbying disclosure filings.

American Cleaning Institute

American Logistics Association

Association of National Advertisers

B20 (Business at the G20)

Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP)

Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC)

Centre of European Policy Studies (CEPS)

Consumer Goods Forum (CGF)

Cosmetics Europe

Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA)

Culinaria Europe

European Brands Association [Association des Industries de Marque] (AIM)

European Centre of Public Affairs (ECPA)

European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing (EPAA)

European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN)

Euroglaces Ice Cream Associations

FoodDrinkEurope (FDE)

Food and Drink Federation (FDF)

Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)

Global Social Compliance Programme (GSCP)

International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products (AISE)

International Chamber of Commerce

International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA)

International Margarine Association of the Countries of Europe (IMACE)

Organization for International Investment (OFII)

Personal Care Products Council (PCPC)

Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN)

Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP)

Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI)

Sweetener Users Association (SUA)

Tea Association of the USA

The Kangaroo Group

Transparency International

Tropical Forest Alliance 2020

United Nations Global Compact

World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)

World Economic Forum (WEF)

World Environment Center (WEC)

World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)