We’re working with our suppliers to achieve sustainable dairy production so that we can foster positive environmental and social impacts in our supply chain while giving consumers brands they can trust.
Driving standards on welfare, climate & biodiversity
Dairy produce is one of our priority ingredients so dairy farms are a vital part of our brands' supply chain, particularly for our ice cream business. We encourage high standards among the farmers we source from – including standards of animal welfare, greenhouse gas reduction and biodiversity management.
The programmes that deliver our sustainable dairy commitment
Our Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) sets out requirements for suppliers and farmers of all our raw materials, including dairy.
Our Livestock Implementation Guides were developed with the help of our external partners FAI Farms (Farm Animals Initiative) in 2013. They outline specific advice for livestock farming and animal welfare.
For our dairy farmers, we provide extra guidance including on the treatment of cows and calves, pasture management, and the management of manure, silage, run-off and other nutrient sources, as well as pesticides and veterinary medicines and many other criteria.
We support this guidance with training for farmers, including in the use of the Cool Farm Tool which assesses emissions of greenhouse gases; the Cow Compass (a way of monitoring animal welfare); and advice on how to set action plans to improve energy use and enhance biodiversity.
In addition, Caring Dairy is our continuous improvement programme for the farmers who supply the milk and cream for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in North America and Europe.
To find out more about the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code, see Our approach to sustainable sourcing.
Relationships with farmers are key - wherever their farm is
Suppliers and farmers are achieving sustainable sourcing status in countries such as Uruguay, Ecuador, the US, New Zealand, Germany and Finland. And in Australia and Ireland, we’ve sourced 100% of our dairy sustainably since 2013 and 2015 respectively. By 2018, 75%† of our dairy produce was sustainably sourced, see Targets & performance for our latest progress.
But farming is rarely the same in two places – so while we have a shared set of standards, our approach can look very different from one farmyard to another. Our dairy ingredients come from large farms, from cooperatives and from smallholders who might own between two and five cows – so one size does not fit all.
Small farm or major co-op, we're focused on improvements
Two initiatives show how we can adapt our approach as we seek to improve standards and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with dairy farming. Our partnership with Enka Milk in Turkey works with around 4,000 farms, many very small, while the Dairy Farmers of America is a large cooperative that supplies nearly a third of our US dairy needs.
With Enka Milk, we’re looking at techniques that improve the comfort, health and longevity of cows, while increasing the amount of milk cows produce at any one time and over their lifetimes. With a local dairy consultant, we’ve implemented improvements that have led to better yields and milk quality. Overall a 2% reduction in GHG emissions has been achieved.
We’re now working on a model to roll out this programme, including through flagship farms which demonstrate the improvements for other farmers. In 2019, we’re starting certification of these farms against our updated Sustainable Agriculture Code 2017 (SAC 2017).
With the Dairy Farmers of America, we’re also developing an approach to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases while improving animal health and welfare, and we’re trialling the benefits of a feed additive with one of our suppliers in 2019.
Expanding our work with others
In 2018, we began working with the Dairy Sustainability Framework. This seeks to create a holistic approach to sustainability in the global dairy value chain and aims to develop an aligned approach to sustainable sourcing between buyers and producers of dairy.
We took part in pilot schemes which looked at improvements and their impact on the most material issues from a regional point of view. Taking a ‘landscape view’ like this is a first for the dairy industry, so further work in 2019 will explore whether this approach can be used as an industry standard.
Our Caring Dairy initiative, updated in 2016, has helped cooperatives supply ingredients for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Europe and the US since 2002.
Caring Dairy uses a different overall assessment from our Sustainable Agriculture Code but shares the Code’s principles and indicators. The programme uses 12 indicators of sustainable agriculture to enable continuous improvement. Each year participating farmers need to show their progress against the indicators and highlight the actions they take in their commitment to continuous improvement. Improvements include planting cover crops to reduce soil erosion, planting without tilling the land (and so keeping more carbon in the soil) and in 2017, reducing fertiliser use by 28%.
Participating farmers are compensated for their successful achievements. Beyond meeting Caring Dairy’s Basic Requirements, farmers can seek Silver or Gold level performance, with increasing reward for each level. All farms undergo a third-party verification to evaluate how each farm meets the required standards.
Farm animal welfare
As well as dairy products, a number of our brands use ingredients that come from farm animals, such as meat in Knorr’s bouillons and soups or cage-free eggs for Hellmann’s mayonnaise. We were one of the first global companies to work with egg suppliers to start providing cage-free eggs for our products, and have committed to convert all our global egg supply to cage-free by 2025.
Our section on farm animal welfare sets out the clear standards of care that we expect of our suppliers of all animal-derived products.
Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare
Unilever achieved Tier 2 (Integral to Business Strategy) for the seventh consecutive year in the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare 2018 Report (PDF | 3MB). This report was published in February 2019 and is supported by Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection (formerly known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals).
The Benchmark assesses farm animal welfare management, policy commitment, performance and disclosure in food companies, enabling investors, companies, NGOs and other stakeholders to understand corporate practice and performance on farm animal welfare. Unilever’s position reflects the fact that farm animal welfare is integral to our business strategy through commitments made both in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and as separate brand commitments.