Sustainable dairy

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.

Farm animal welfare

Driving standards on welfare, climate & biodiversity

Dairy farms are important parts of our brands' ingredient 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 both North America and Europe.

To find out more about the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code, see Our approach to sustainable sourcing.

Relationships with farmers are crucial

Suppliers and farmers around the world are achieving Unilever’s sustainable dairy standard. In 2019, we recognised that the standards delivered by the Dairy Farmers of Canada meant that 100% of milk produced in Canada met equivalency with our SAC. And in Australia and Ireland, we’ve sourced 100% of our dairy sustainably since 2013 and 2015 respectively. 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 where the average farm size is much bigger.

With Enka Milk, we've developed 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 also 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 2020, we will certify the first Turkish farms against our Sustainable Agriculture Code 2017 (SAC 2017), meaning we will be able to source the first of our milk from Enka sustainably.

With the Dairy Farmers of America, we’re also trialling an approach to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases while improving animal health and welfare. Over 2019–2020, we’re exploring the benefits of a probiotic feed additive with one of our suppliers, with the aim of reducing emissions of methane.

The Sustainable Dairy Partnership

At the same time as working with individual farming groups, we want to collaborate across the sector to achieve higher sustainability standards. That's why, in 2018, we began working with the Dairy Sustainability Framework, which seeks to create a holistic approach to sustainability in the global dairy value chain, and develop an aligned approach to sustainable sourcing between buyers and producers of dairy.

Shaking hands

Of the world’s milk comes from the Sustainable Dairy Partnership

One of the results of this work was the launch in 2019 of the new Sustainable Dairy Partnership (SDP). The SDP is what is known as a 'business-to-business' sustainability model, bringing us together with other buyers, and with suppliers representing 30% of global milk volume. It’s built on the Dairy Sustainability Framework (DSF) and its eleven criteria addressing sustainability issues. The SDP also requires all milk processors to address the prevention of deforestation, the protection of animal welfare and human rights, and compliance with local legislation.

The Sustainable Dairy Partnership allows dairy suppliers to report progress on the most relevant issues. It represents a major step for the sector to move from compliance-based reporting to impact-based reporting.

Jan Kees Vis, our Global Director, Sustainable Sourcing Development

Ben & Jerry's

The Caring Dairy initiative has helped cooperatives supply ingredients for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Europe and the US since the brand co-founded it in 2002. It aims to support thriving livelihoods for farmers and farm workers, excellent care for cows, and a flourishing ecosystem that combats climate change through building soil health and sequestering carbon.

Caring Dairy

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 was identified as a Tier 3 company (one having an established approach to farm animal welfare) in the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare 2019 Report (PDF | 3MB). This report was published in April 2020 and is supported by Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection (formerly known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals). It provides an objective account of the state of farm animal welfare as a business issue.

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.