Advancing human rights in our own operations

Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights throughout our operations.

Our commitment to human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 1948, is the cornerstone of modern human rights law. It calls upon “every individual and every organ of society” to promote respect for human rights. Protecting and fulfilling human rights is the duty of governments, including where it relates to corporate activity. At the same time, businesses have their own responsibility to respect human rights, which means they should act with due diligence to prevent infringing the rights of others.

In line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011), we base our human rights commitment and policy on the International Bill of Human Rights (consisting, in addition to the UDHR, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) and the principles concerning fundamental rights set out in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. We also support the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Our approach

Our approach is to uphold and promote human rights in three ways:

  • In our operations by upholding our values and standards.
  • In our relationships with our suppliers and other business partners.
  • By working through external initiatives, such as the UN Global Compact.

A key requirement of the UN Guiding Principles is for businesses to have a policy statement that addresses their responsibility to respect human rights. Our Human Rights Policy Statement (PDF | 327KB) provides clarity on our commitment to respect universal principles, our due diligence processes and our governance. We are using the framework provided by the UN Guiding Principles to monitor, influence and improve the business practices of our own operations, as well as those of our suppliers and business partners.

In June 2015 we published our first Human Rights report, fulfilling our commitment to report publicly on our implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This used the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework - the only recognised framework for businesses to report progress on implementation of the UN Guiding Principles. In the report, we focused on our salient issues. Those are human rights that are at risk of the most severe negative impacts through a company’s activities or business relationships. As our CEO Paul Polman says in the report’s introduction,

“Today the risk of systemic human rights abuses exists across our value chain and the value chains of other global businesses. This is a reality we must confront and work together to resolve”. We are also focusing on human rights issues around key commodities and geographies, including undertaking human rights impact assessments. We continue to work with industry, NGOs, trade unions, business partners and governments to mainstream the integration of human rights into business.

Our commitment to our employees

We are committed to ensuring that all our employees work in an environment that promotes diversity, trust, human rights and equal opportunities, free from discrimination or victimisation.

Our Respect, Dignity and Fair Treatment Code Policy sets out what we and our employees must do to ensure this. It is part of a framework of 24 Code Policies which underpins our Code of Business Principles. We expect and encourage employees to bring to our attention any breach across any area of our Code of Business Principles (Code).

These commitments are of no practical use unless they are part of an active process of compliance, monitoring and reporting. The Board of Unilever has overall responsibility for ensuring this, and day-to-day responsibility lies with senior management around the world. Checks are also made by Unilever Corporate Audit and by our external auditors.

Since 2015, we have given responsibility for the strategy and execution of our global Code compliance programme to a Chief Business Integrity Officer, who reports to the Chief Legal Officer. She heads up a restructured network of national and regional Business Integrity Officers who are part of our Legal Function.

Access to remedy

Effective grievance mechanisms, as described in the UN Guiding Principles, are critical in ensuring that human rights, including labour rights, are respected. We are developing a single integrated Code and grievance channel to ensure that our employees can raise issues and concerns as simply as possible. We are also creating better systems to analyse the grievances and Code breaches we receive.

Raising concerns and reporting channels

We are committed to a culture of transparency and offer internal and external channels for raising concerns – which can be done anonymously if desired. Grievance mechanisms play a critical role in opening channels for dialogue, problem solving, investigation and, when required, providing remedy. They enable workers and other rights-holders to raise complaints freely and obtain effective and transparent resolutions. Moreover, they help identify country-specific solutions and pre-emptive action needed to avoid recurrence.

We continue to build awareness and knowledge amongst our employees and others working for Unilever on human rights, including labour rights. We encourage them to speak up – without retribution - about any concerns they may have and are increasing the capacity of our management to effectively identify and respond to concerns.

We have made an online reporting process available for our employees and suppliers since 2012. This is in addition to existing telephone and email reporting systems. Employees can also report concerns to their line manager, local Business Integrity Officer, human resources or a member of their local Business Integrity Committee. We also offer a confidential ‘Code Support Line’ (whistleblowing line) by telephone or internet. All our Code training materials and related communications reinforce awareness of these channels.

We work with local teams to help ensure reporting channels, which operate in many languages, cater for local needs.

Our suppliers must also provide their workers with transparent, confidential and fair procedures to raise any issues of concern. We also provide an external channel to third parties and encourage our suppliers and their employees to contact us if they are concerned about any breaches of our Responsible Sourcing Policy.

Bringing human rights to life for our employees

In December 2013, we created our first ‘Human Rights Day’ to raise awareness of the subject. We launched a ‘Social Impact Hub’ on our internal employee portal, where employees can learn how we are creating positive social impact across our business. The hub includes a knowledge centre with information on human and labour rights, including best practice models and guidance.

We make sure that engagement with our employees on enhancing livelihoods and human rights is ongoing. Through our ‘enhancing livelihoods Chatter group’ (our internal social media network) people can share what they are doing by posting messages or video clips and asking questions. On Human Rights Day 2014 we published films of employees talking about their work on our internal #brightfutures website and in 2015 we raised awareness internal awareness of our eight salient human rights issues as described in our Human Rights Report (PDF | 5MB).

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