Sustainable sourcing

Unilever's work on sustainable sourcing supports

4 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

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Sustainable sourcing

Sustainable sourcing is essential to the responsible growth of our business.

People, planet & prosperity: why we all need sustainable agriculture

Sustainable farming methods have the potential to considerably increase farmers’ yields, mitigate the effects of climate change and provide farmers, their families and their surrounding communities with opportunities to build more prosperous societies – so they too can contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The business benefits of sustainable sourcing are also clear. It helps secure our supplies and reduces risk and volatility in our raw material supply chains. It opens up opportunities for innovation: by focusing on people’s sustainable living needs and consumer preference, we build stronger brands. Sustainable farming methods can also improve the quality of our products.

Our strategy

Our products are used by 2.5 billion people a day – that’s around a third of the people on the planet. We use many different raw materials to make our products – and millions of people play an important role in providing them.

Palm oil farmer

Our commitment

In 2010 we set a target to source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020.

Progress to date

In line with our original commitment, 62% of our agricultural raw materials were sustainably sourced by end 2019. This compares to just 14% when we launched our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in 2010.

To maximise our impact, we’ve focused our efforts on a priority set of key crops and commodities. These priorities include palm oil, paper and board, soy, sugar, tea, dairy, rapeseed, cereals, vegetables, cocoa, herbal infusions and vanilla. They make up around two-thirds of our total volume of agricultural raw materials and 88% of these were sustainably sourced in 2019.

All the materials we purchase will be sourced responsibly in line with our Responsible Sourcing Policy (RSP). In 2019, 70% of our procurement spend was through suppliers meeting the mandatory requirements of the RSP.

See Targets & performance for more detail.

Creating positive impacts

We reviewed the scope of our sustainable sourcing programme in 2017 to ensure we were able to drive maximum impact via our sourcing commitments. Our review concluded with a commitment to ensure Unilever’s ambition to source sustainably and responsibly extends to all procured materials, not just renewable ones.

We are deploying different approaches to achieve the impacts we desire.

  • We are leading industry transformation in palm oil and tea.
  • We pay special attention to the livelihoods of smallholders as we recognise the leading role that they will play in transforming agriculture, especially where we lead in palm oil and tea.
  • We support external certification standards where they are available and shown to drive impact in the environment and the livelihoods of the farmers and smallholders in our supply chain.
  • We deploy our own sustainable agriculture standard where external certification is not available, where we are able to influence our suppliers to design programmes to promote sustainable practices and for those crops that are iconic to our brands.
  • In mined materials, we remain committed to further embedding our Code for Responsible Extraction (CORE) policy.
  • In plastics, we continue to create transformational technology and recycling partnerships to enable a circular economy of plastics.
  • Following our Procurement Framework (PDF | 49KB), the totality of our procured materials footprint is covered by our Responsible Sourcing Policy, which we apply to all suppliers.

Our updated sustainable sourcing strategy turns on several key pivots:

  • an unwavering commitment to deeper transparency and traceability on climate and social impact issues
  • a focus on living conditions and economic viability for the smallholders in our supply chain
  • on plastics and packaging waste, a radical shift from a linear, take-make-dispose model towards a more circular economy model.

Within each of these key pivots, we are leveraging digital and technological solutions to better understand the realities on the ground and help inform the development and implementation of our impact programmes.

Transparency & traceability

Unilever is actively developing and deploying technologies that have the potential to disrupt and transform supply chain transparency. We’re investing in satellite data, geolocation, blockchain and AI, working with major tech firms and innovative start-ups to build new approaches to monitoring and traceability, extending from downstream operations to plantations or crop source.

In 2018, we deepened our commitment to transparency with the publication of our palm oil mill list. This publication, which is updated on a regular basis, provides interested parties with an in-depth look at our palm oil supply chain. In January 2019 we became the first fast-moving consumer goods company to publish our palm oil grievances using the Unilever Unilever palm oil grievance tracker (PDF | 781KB). We also increased the visibility of our supply chain within our tea business.

Find out more about our palm oil grievance tracker and technology-led traceability.

Our continued focus on smallholders

Through tailored impact programmes we’ve worked to help millions of smallholders improve their crop yields while increasing the quality and consistency of the crops they grow. By doing so, we are helping to create a sustainable platform for smallholders to increase and diversify their incomes, which in turn, helps us build a resilient and sustainable supply chain.

In 2019, our business enabled 793,000 smallholder farmers to access initiatives to improve agricultural practices or increase incomes. We remain focused on:

  • leaning into radical transparency, which ensures fair markets
  • creating capacity at scale and economic and social inclusion for all by providing access to knowledge and finance
  • continuing to lead for mainstream standards, which in turn, contributes to greater resource conservation through aligned activities.

Digital is proving to be a key enabler to connect the farmers who grow our raw materials to our supply chain. We’ve leveraged satellite data to assess and monitor deforestation risk, using digital tools and aerial mapping to map smallholder plots in palm. In our vegetable programme, we have pioneered digital tools for farmer engagement and training, and to provide weather data to smallholders in India. In tea, one of our largest crops, we’ve leveraged digital to advance all aspects of tea production on our plantations.

See Connecting with smallholder farmers to enhance livelihoods.

Plastics

If we are to source all our materials responsibly, we need to tackle not only the paper and board packaging we buy, but the many other types of packaging we use too. Therefore, we have extended our Procurement Framework to cover plastics. Reducing plastic packaging and increasing the use of recyclable content in our packaging is a top priority. We have a clear strategy to use less plastic, better plastic, and ultimately, no plastic where a better alternative exists.

We’re continuing our ‘less plastic’ work to lightweight and redesign our packaging for sustainability. ‘Better plastics’ is about making our products recyclable and eliminating problematic materials. Many of our brands are now incorporating post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics into their products. Finally, ‘no plastics’ is all about thinking differently – using alternative materials where possible and eliminating plastics where not necessary.

We remain focused on tackling the myriad issues related to packaging waste and are determined to keep plastic in the economy and out of the environment. For more detail on how we are accelerating our efforts on plastics, see Waste and packaging.

Future challenges

Sustainability is evolving and there is increased interest and scrutiny from consumers about the origin of ingredients, the environmental protection of our planet, and the fair and ethical treatment of people within our extended supply chain. We believe we will have a bigger and deeper impact on our supply chain by expanding our sustainable sourcing programme to include all procured materials.

We recognise that we’re facing many challenges, including increasing the number of materials we are working on and the difficulty of creating and sustaining positive impacts. The road ahead will not be easy − but our resolve to create a sustainable supply chain remains strong and unwavering. In June 2020 we set out a new range of measures and commitments designed to improve the health of the planet by taking even more decisive action to fight climate change, and protect and regenerate nature, to preserve resources for future generations.

We will achieve net zero emissions from all our products by 2039 and our ambition is to communicate the carbon footprint of every product we sell.  We will also empower, and work with, a new generation of farmers and smallholders, driving programmes to protect and restore forests, soil and biodiversity; and we’ll work with governments and other organisations to improve access to water for communities in water-stressed areas.

Our commitments include a new €1 billion Climate & Nature Fund; a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023; a pioneering Regenerative Agriculture Code for all our suppliers; and water stewardship programmes for local communities in 100 locations by 2030.

For more see Our approach to sustainable sourcing or Fairness in the workplace for details of our Responsible Sourcing Policy.

† Independently assured by PwC

Sustainable sourcing
Our commitment

By 2020 we will source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably: 10% by 2010; 30% by 2012; 50% by 2015; 100% by 2020.

Our performance

62% of our agricultural raw materials were sustainably sourced by end 2019, including 57% as physical sustainable sources and 5% in the form of certificates for palm, soy and sugar. This compares to 56% in 2018 and just 14% when we launched our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in 2010.

For the 12 key ingredients that make up around two-thirds of our total volume of agricultural raw materials, 88% were sustainably sourced in 2019.

70% of the materials we purchased in 2019 were sourced in line with the requirements of our Responsible Sourcing Policy.

Our perspective

We undertook an in-depth review of our sustainable sourcing strategy over 2016–2017 to ensure we continued to evolve our approach and maximise our impact. The review highlighted the need for us to further strengthen our overall sustainable sourcing programme, and in particular to update our Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC). The updated Code includes a stronger emphasis on social issues across five key areas (no deforestation; human rights, including Free, Prior and Informed Consent; legal compliance; migrant labour; and grievance processes for workers).

Our review also confirmed that while our strategic direction is the right one for our business, society and the environment, we’re unable to reach our target by 2020 despite the considerable advances we’ve made. This is partly because of our lack of scale to achieve sufficient change across all crops. And partly because the length and complexity of some supply chains make it very difficult to develop a line of sight on the farmers at the very beginning of that supply chain, and thus to reassure ourselves that their practices are sustainable.

We are concentrating our efforts where we can drive the greatest impact. We’ve pinpointed a set of 12 priority crops and commodities which are not only crucial to our brands, but also where we can have most impact within their agricultural sectors. These include palm oil, paper and board, soy, sugar, tea, dairy, rapeseed, cereals, vegetables, cocoa, herbal infusions and vanilla. By 2020, we expect to reach around 95% sustainably sourced for these key crops, and around 67% sustainable sourcing overall.

Alongside our focus on key crops, we’re developing and deploying technologies that have the potential to disrupt and transform supply chain transparency. We are investing in satellite data, geolocation, blockchain and AI, working with major tech firms and innovative start-ups to build new approaches to monitoring and traceability.

In 2018, we deepened our commitment to transparency with the publication of our palm oil mill list, and in January 2019 we became the first fast-moving consumer goods company to publish our palm oil grievances using the Unilever palm oil grievance tracker (PDF | 781KB). We increased the visibility of our supply chain within our tea business in 2019 and have also published details of our paper and board, soy and cocoa suppliers.

Our ambition to source sustainably and responsibly extends to all procured materials, not just those that are renewable. So by 2020, all the materials we purchase – including plastics and mined minerals – will be sourced responsibly in line with our Responsible Sourcing Policy. Extending our scope in this way enables us to drive maximum impact via our sourcing commitments.

See Our strategy above for further detail.


  • Achieved 3

  • On-Plan 7

  • Off-Plan 3

  • %

    Of target achieved 4

Key to our performance
  • Achieved

    This is the number of targets we have achieved

  • On-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are on track to achieve

  • Off-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are currently not on track

  • %

    Of target achieved

    This is the percentage of the target we are on track to achieve

Our targets

Please see Independent assurance for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Sustainable palm oil

We will purchase all palm oil from physically certified sustainable sources by 2019.

95

95%* of palm oil and palm kernel oil from physically certified sources in 2019, achieved through a combination of segregated and mass balance supply.

In addition, we sourced over 4.5% of our volumes through independent smallholder certificates to reach a total of 99.6% sustainably sourced.


Our perspective

Palm oil (PO) and palm kernel oil (PKO) are both priority ingredients. In 2016 we brought forward our target for purchasing 100% physically certified palm oil and its derivatives for our core volumes from 2020 to 2019. At that time, we envisaged that we would achieve 100% sustainable PKO much later due to difficulties in finding enough physically certified supply.

In 2019 we reached 95%* physically certified supply, from RSPO Mass Balance, RSPO Segregated or an equivalent standard that is independently verified by a third party. We are pleased with this result as we’ve sourced enough PKO to cover our needs far earlier than we expected.

We did not reach the 100% target according to our own Basis of Preparation (PDF | 6MB), partly because we faced a bottleneck in supply of RSPO-certified materials in Africa.

However, by investing in smallholders’ certification and purchasing independent smallholder certificates for the remainder of our core volumes, we did achieve 99.6% sustainably sourced for 2019 for all of our volumes.

We believe this is a credible method of sustainable sourcing given the importance of supporting smallholders and the fact that these credits are directly associated with specific smallholders and smallholder groups. We bought the equivalent of 4.5% of our volumes in RSPO independent smallholder certificates, which was the maximum amount of these types of credits available in the market.

* From 2017 we report only core volumes of palm oil under this KPI. Core volumes exclude derivatives of palm fatty acid distillates (which are by-products of the refining process), tail ingredients and materials processed by third-party manufacturers.

Transforming the palm oil industry

Sustainable paper and board

We will source 75% of the paper and board for our packaging from certified sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by 2015. We will reach 100% by 2020.

97% of our paper and board came from certified sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by end 2019.


Our perspective

Paper and board are priority raw materials and we reached 97% sustainably sourced in 2019.

Of this, 90% was received with a third-party certification claim and full chain of custody to demonstrate that it came from sustainably managed forests or recycled material.

There are challenges for our suppliers in providing verifiable evidence to support the make-up of uncertified products in our recycled material. So in 2016 we set out to accelerate the volume of certified recycled products we buy by 2019, and to source the recycled fibre from suppliers with third-party certification. In 2019, 7.5% of our total volume still came from recycled sources without chain of custody, so we’re working with suppliers to get these volumes certified with chain of custody.

To make our supply chain more transparent, in July 2019, we published details of direct suppliers (PDF | 173KB) accounting for over 99.5% of the wood fibre-based materials purchased in 2018 under our Sustainable Paper & Board Packaging Policy.

Sustainable paper & board sourcing

Sustainable soy

We will source sustainably all soy beans by 2014 and all soy oils by 2020.

100% soy beans purchased from sustainable sources by end 2014.

80% soy oil covered from sustainable sources by end 2019.


Our perspective

Soy is one of our priority crops. We achieved our target to source 100% of our soy beans sustainably by 2014 (through the physical purchase of RTRS certified beans).

In 2019, we increased soy oil from sustainable sources to 80%, thanks to new suppliers in Latin America and volume increases from our programme in North America. Our total comprises 24% physical certified oil and 56% in the form of credits and includes Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) certified soy oil, self-verified soy oil in the US and RTRS certificates.

We believe transparency helps us to build a more sustainable supply chain. In July 2019, we published details of our direct suppliers accounting for more than 99.9% of our soy oil purchases in 2018. As we buy most of our soy from the Americas, we continue to work with farmers there to improve their agricultural practices and boost sustainable production.


Sustainable soy & rapeseed oils

Sustainable tea

  • By 2015 we aim to have the tea in all Lipton tea bags sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ estates.

Since 2015, 100% of the tea in our Lipton tea bag blends has come from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ sources.


  • By 2020, 100% of Unilever’s tea, including loose tea, will be sustainably sourced.

Overall, 90% of the tea purchased for all our brands was sourced from sustainable sources in 2019: 66% was Rainforest Alliance Certified™ and 24% was trustea Verified.


Our perspective

Tea is one of our priority crops and in 2007 we were the first major tea company to commit to sustainably sourcing tea on a large scale. In 2015, we met our target for 100% of the tea in Lipton’s tea bag blends to come from sustainable sources.

We continued our progress in 2019, increasing the proportion of all our tea from certified sustainable sources to 90% (up from 84% in 2018). In India, sources of sustainable tea increased and we were able to up the proportion of tea we buy that was trustea Verified.

We’re working hard to bring the tea industry into the 21st century by taking action to improve people’s health, particularly through protecting women’s safety and promoting better diets, to improve their livelihoods and to nurture the land through sustainable agricultural practices. And to support our belief that transparency helps us build a better supply chain, in 2019 we published a list of our global tea suppliers.


Sustainable tea - leading the industry

Sustainable fruit and vegetables

  • We will purchase 100% of our fruit from sustainable sources by 2015.
67

67% of fruit purchased sustainably by end 2015; 41% by 2019.


  • We will purchase 50% of our top 13 vegetables and herbs from sustainable sources by 2012 and 100% by 2015. This accounts for over 80% of our global vegetable and herb volume.
92

92% of our top 13 vegetables and herbs purchased from sustainable sources by end 2015, up from 59% in 2012. We reached 98% by 2019.


Our perspective

Fruit and vegetables are a complex portfolio of materials with a very large and diverse supply base, making it difficult to achieve our 100% target across the entire portfolio by 2015.

Vegetables are one of our priority crops, increasing to 98% sustainably sourced for our top 13 in 2019.

Following an in-depth review of our strategy to optimise our approach to sustainable sourcing over 2016−2017, we’re focusing on a set of key crops which are important to our brands and where, due to our scale and influence, we can drive greater positive impact within these agricultural sectors. There are a small number of crops that we purchase in low volumes and where we alone are unable to significantly impact the market. Fruit is one of these crops and in line with our strategy, sustainably sourced volumes decreased to 41% in 2019.

Sustainable vegetables

Sustainable cocoa

We will source cocoa sustainably for our Magnum ice cream by 2015. All other cocoa will be sourced sustainably by 2020.

98% of cocoa for Magnum sustainably sourced through Rainforest Alliance certification by end 2015; over 99% by 2019.

Overall, 89% of all cocoa sourced sustainably.


Our perspective

Cocoa is one of our priority crops and it’s essential to Magnum, our biggest ice cream brand which is on sale in 52 countries. We’re now able to source Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa for all but two of these countries.

We reached over 99% sustainably sourced cocoa for Magnum in 2019, but our challenge remains in purchasing Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa in Venezuela and Israel where the availability of certified beans remains extremely limited.

We also stepped up our efforts to source all our cocoa sustainably, reaching 89%, up from 82% in 2018.

We joined The Cocoa & Forests Initiative in 2018, signing its statement of intent to collaborate pre-competitively to help end deforestation and forest degradation in the cocoa supply chain. We’ve been mapping our direct cocoa supply chain to improve traceability and in March 2020 published a full list of our Tier 1 and 2 direct cocoa suppliers on our website.

Sustainable cocoa & sugar

Sustainable sugar

We will source all sugar sustainably by 2020.

69% of sugar sustainably sourced by end 2019.


Our perspective

Sugar is one of our priority crops. We verify sugar beet primarily against our Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) and mainly use Bonsucro certification for sugar cane.

In 2019, 69% of our sugar supplies were sustainably sourced. While this figure was the same as in 2018, in 2019 we increased the proportion of self-assessed and physical, certified sugar from 42% to 46%. (This covers both sugar beet and sugar cane). We achieved the rest of our sugar requirements with Bonsucro credits (23%), reducing our use of them slightly during the year.

Our long-term goal is to help create a global supply of sustainable sugar. We believe the best way to achieve this is to harmonise the sustainable sourcing codes of the food and drink industries and forge them into a single standard, which can have an impact at scale. That’s why we have helped develop the Farm Sustainability Assessment through the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, which has been agreed by many businesses and gives farmers a single, simplified sustainability framework to work to.

Sustainable cocoa & sugar

Sustainable sunflower oil

We will source all sunflower oil sustainably by 2020.

24% of sunflower oil sustainably sourced by end 2019.


Our perspective

In 2016 we began an in-depth review of our strategy to optimise our approach to sustainable sourcing. As a result, we’re focusing on a set of key crops which are important to our brands and where, due to our scale and influence, we can drive greater positive impact within these agricultural sectors.

Sunflower oil is one of a small number of crops that we purchase in very low volumes and where we alone are unable to significantly impact the market. In line with this strategy, we will not reach our target.

Nevertheless, we continue to work with our suppliers to find industry-wide solutions to boost supplies of sustainable sunflower oil. In 2019, 24% of our volumes were sustainably sourced.

Sustainable rapeseed oil

We will source all rapeseed oil sustainably by 2020.

92% of rapeseed oil sustainably sourced by end 2019.


Our perspective

Rapeseed oil is one of our priority crops. In 2019, 92% of our volumes were sustainably sourced, marking a significant increase from the previous year. This was driven by the efforts of one of our key suppliers.

We continue to work with our suppliers and other partners, including on a joint approach with our partner Bunge in Canada, where around 200 farmers are signed up to our Sustainable Agriculture Code programme.


Sustainable soy & rapeseed oils

Sustainable dairy

We will source all dairy produce sustainably by 2020.

78% of dairy produce sustainably sourced by end 2019.


Our perspective

Dairy produce is one of our priority ingredients, and while we increased our sustainable supply to 78% in 2019, we will not reach 100% by 2020. This is because in some countries, for example Russia and Pakistan, sustainable dairy practices are not yet sufficiently widespread to produce a reliable supply. Similarly, the variety of dairy products we buy come from many suppliers, making it difficult to achieve a sustainable supply at scale.

We’re continuing to work with the Dairy Sustainability Framework (DSF), which is looking at sustainability from a regional perspective, a first for the dairy industry. In 2019 the Sustainable Dairy Partnership was launched: a 'business-to-business' sustainability model built on the DSF Framework. The Partnership also requires all milk processors to address the prevention of deforestation, the protection of animal welfare and human rights, and compliance with local legislation.


Sustainable dairy

Fairtrade Ben & Jerry's

All flavours of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will be Fairtrade certified by 2013.

77

77% of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavours achieved Fairtrade certification in 2013. We reached 100% in 2014.


Our perspective

Ben & Jerry’s ice creams were the first to use Fairtrade (FT) ingredients in 2005. By the end of 2011 in Europe, we achieved Fairtrade certification for all our products produced and distributed in Europe.

In 2012, due to issues around quality and availability, we found we could not source all the FT-certified ingredients we needed for a global conversion. So we revised our target from our previous ‘all ingredients’ to ‘all flavours’ certified.

We identified that by using FT ingredients for the five major commodities in all our base mixes and for our chunks and swirls, and following proper Fairtrade derogation procedures, all our ice cream flavours would qualify for Fairtrade certification by 2013. We reached 77% in 2013.

In 2013 we also decided to source only non-GMO ingredients by seed source. As this added complexity to our conversion programmes, we delayed our plans, achieving FT-certification for all our flavours in 2014.

Ben and Jerry’s

Cage-free eggs

We aim to move to 100% cage-free eggs for all our products,* including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé mayonnaises.

* Where allowed by local legislation.

65% of eggs were cage-free by end 2019.


Our perspective

Our research shows that consumers prefer products made with cage-free eggs. However, the conditions in which eggs are produced vary widely around the world. We take animal welfare seriously as a social and ethical concern and were one of the first global companies to work with suppliers to start sourcing cage-free eggs.

Since 2009, Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé have been 100% cage-free in Western Europe. By 2014, we had converted our supply chain in Eastern Europe too so that all our European products could use cage-free eggs.

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has used only cage-free eggs in Europe since 2004; by the end of 2011, 99% of all eggs used in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream mix worldwide were also cage-free.

In 2018 we announced our commitment to convert all our egg supplies to cage-free by 2025: overall in 2019, 65% of our global supply was cage-free.

Farm animal welfare

Sustainable sourcing of office materials

By 2013 we will source all paper-based office materials for our top 21 countries from either certified sustainable forests or recycled sources.

100% of paper-based materials from certified sustainable forests or recycled sources by end 2013.


Our perspective

Our commitment covers office paper products such as printer paper, note books and envelopes. By using paper from sustainable or recycled sources, we avoid using wood from non-sustainable sources, helping our aim to end deforestation.

We achieved our target in 2013, when 100% of our paper-based office materials for our top 21 countries came from either certified, sustainable forests or recycled sources. All our suppliers sign a certificate of compliance, and we monitor compliance via quarterly reporting. Where necessary, we have changed from non-sustainable products to sustainable products.

We then extended our ambition from the top 21 countries to all other countries in Europe and Latin America, with the aim of reaching 100% compliance by the end of 2015, which we achieved.

While we no longer report on this target as we achieved it in 2013, we continue to drive greater use of sustainable paper across our business.

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