Unilever puts spotlight on human and labour rights

Groundbreaking Oxfam report into global supply chain helps to fuel the debate on how business can improve human and labour rights.

Role of business in human and labour rights

Unilever is looking to stimulate debate about the role of business in promoting human and labour rights with the publication of a groundbreaking Oxfam report into our global supply chain.

The two-year research project enabled Unilever to learn more about the implications of the UN Framework for Business and Human Rights and better understand how businesses can put human and labour rights into their core strategies and drive positive change in society.

This is the first time that a company has given open access to its supply chain for this type of project.

Stimulating debate

Writing in the report, which was launched 7 February, Paul Polman, CEO, says: “We agreed that Oxfam could publish the report as a means of stimulating this wider debate and encouraging other companies to follow our lead.”

Creating a better future

In ‘Labour Rights in Unilever’s Supply Chain’, Oxfam used Unilever’s Vietnamese operations as its main case study. Oxfam consequently makes six recommendations to Unilever based around supporting workers’ livelihoods, providing human rights training within the organisation, implementing more ways in which workers can raise areas of concern and working closely with suppliers and partners to ensure standards are met.

Unilever is committed to improving the livelihoods of people around the world as part of our Sustainable Living Plan, which we launched in 2010. Greater transparency within our own operations and those of our partners is key to achieving this.

We are now reviewing our Vietnamese supply chain in light of the recommendations.

Continuous improvement

In 2011 the UN adopted Guidelines on Business and Human Rights and we have been assessing how to best implement these across the business. As part of this we have recently appointed a Global Vice President for Social Impact to manage the process and ensure the Framework is aligned with the Sustainable Living Plan.

On a global level we are working with suppliers and partners, as well as ensuring our own internal procedures and standards, to promote sustainable livelihoods for our workers and those in the value chain.

In Vietnam, Unilever is now organising human and labour rights workshops to promote best practice. We will be working with our top suppliers to address non-conformity with Unilever’s Supplier Code and also reviewing our grievance procedures for both permanent and temporary workers. We will review our progress with Oxfam in two years time.

Working together

Paul adds: “We are convinced that addressing these complex social issues across our value chains are best tackled by working together with our workers, peers, governments and civil society, including trade unions. We will continue this dialogue through a number of external and internal events throughout 2013.”

Oxfam is one of the Unilever Foundation’s partners and Unilever is collaborating on several long-term projects on smallholder farming, sustainable sourcing and labour rights.

The 106-page report ‘Labour Rights in Unilever’s Supply Chain – From compliance towards good practice’ is available as a download and an eBook.

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