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Our sustainable agriculture programme

We're working with farmers and suppliers to drive up social and environmental standards in our supply of agricultural raw materials.

Our sustainable agriculture programme

Driving change for the better

Our sustainable agriculture programme was inspired by our ambition to buy our agricultural raw materials from farms applying sustainable agricultural practices.

At the heart of the programme is our Sustainable Agriculture Code. We developed the Code to give us, and our farmers and suppliers, a set of rigorous standards which would spur on improvements across our supply chain. We've been working with our suppliers to help them comply with our SAC since 2010 – driving better working conditions and livelihoods, soil and water management, biodiversity, and a range of other environmental benefits.

Addressing the biggest issues

We reviewed our sustainable sourcing strategy over 2016–2017 to ensure it continues to have the greatest possible impact on the ground and to support our business by building trust and addressing risk in our supply chain.

In 2017, we updated our Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) 2017 (PDF | 2MB) to raise our standards further by emphasising five key areas: no deforestation, human rights (including Free, Prior and Informed Consent), legal compliance, migrant labour and grievance processes for workers. We're also moving the programme from self-assessment to third-party certification, to provide greater trust and transparency and ensure more accurate reporting. The SAC continues to recognise external certification (such as Rainforest Alliance certification) that meets or exceeds our own standards.

We require our suppliers to comply with our Responsible Sourcing Policy (PDF | 9MB) (RSP). The updated SAC includes a new chapter dedicated to the RSP for farms. It also includes new requirements addressing land use change and deforestation, specific areas of health and safety, sustainable production of livestock feed, and land rights protection. It extends animal welfare provision to transportation and slaughter.

In 2018, we aim to certify an initial 40 suppliers against SAC 2017. These suppliers were chosen to ensure a representative variety of our crops and geographies. Our other suppliers will continue with self-assessment against the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code 2010 (PDF | 2MB), until they too are invited to transition to SAC 2017.

As part of our review, we also identified a set of key priority crops where we can make the biggest impact on the ground. These include palm oil, paper and board, soy, sugar, tea, dairy, rapeseed, cereals, vegetables, cocoa, herbal infusions and vanilla. We also looked at where we can help drive the transformational changes needed to make global agriculture environmentally and socially sustainable. Details of our work with partners on transformational change are in Transforming global food systems.

What sustainable agriculture means in practice

Sustainable agriculture means growing crops in ways which sustain the soil, minimise water and fertiliser use, protect biodiversity and enhance farmers’ livelihoods.

In our Sustainable Agriculture Code, we define sustainable sourcing using 11 social, economic and environmental indicators: soil health, soil loss, nutrients, pest management, biodiversity, farm economics, energy, water, social and human capital, local economy and animal welfare.

Helping farmers & suppliers promote sustainable sourcing

We can only achieve a sustainable supply of agricultural raw materials by working with our suppliers and the farmers who grow our ingredients. Making that process both efficient and rigorous helps us, and them.

That's why our SAC recognises a range of external standards used by suppliers to comply with the principles of sustainable agriculture – a full list can be found in our Scheme Rules SAC 2010 (PDF | 2MB).

We will consider any current in-house or industry-level sustainability programmes that suppliers use, asking suppliers to benchmark their system or programme against SAC, and agreeing with them which areas, if any, of a supplier or industry-level system, are equivalent to SAC.

Strategic partnerships and third-party certification schemes are a key part of our approach. Many of our raw materials are certified to sustainability standards which meet or exceed our SAC, such as those of the Rainforest Alliance, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and Round Table on Responsible Soy. These multi-stakeholder platforms help suppliers by providing a common definition of sustainable agriculture, which makes their products more marketable to us and others.

However, we know that certification alone does not guarantee a solution to all problems. That’s why we work in partnership with our suppliers and NGOs to drive sustainable practices across the entire value chain.


Knorr farmer in field

Findings demonstrate impact

We now have data on our sustainable agriculture programme covering 2012–2017. While factors such as the variability of weather mean that this is a short period in which to identify trends in agricultural data, our findings to date are positive.

For farmers who have been part of our programme since 2012, performance against most of our sustainability measures has improved. We have started to give specific feedback to individual suppliers and their farmers to help them to focus their improvement programmes.

Our Sustainable Sourcing Advisory Board

Our Sustainable Sourcing Advisory Board (SSAB) (PDF | 159KB) advises us on issues such as climate impact, biodiversity, water stress, labour conditions, poverty alleviation and the use of chemicals. It includes seven external experts including academics, and representatives from NGOs and impact investing:

  • Dr Julia Balandina Jaquier, JBJ Consult, Switzerland
  • David Bright, Open Society Foundations, UK
  • Professor Ken Giller, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
  • Alan Knight, ArcelorMittal, UK
  • Karin Kreider, ISEAL, UK
  • Dr Ruth Nussbaum, Proforest, UK
  • Kavita Prakash-Mani, WWF International, US.

See how our governance structures help us deliver the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

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