This Human Rights Day, we’re delighted to share that Unilever has again ranked first – out of 127 companies – in the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, as assessed by the World Benchmarking Alliance.
We’re proud of this acknowledgement, but we’re well aware that more needs to be done to progress our own scores and to support the improvement of our peers’ results, as we collectively seek to address ongoing endemic human rights issues in global value chains.
Promoting human rights encompasses many different things
Human rights advocacy is often associated with protests and politics. But in practice, actions seeking to ensure freedom, equity and safety for all can look quite different.
For example, on one hand, they can be about ensuring that all workers are paid fair wages and work reasonable hours, free from harassment and abuse. On the other, they can be about respecting the rights and title to property and land.
Our new Responsible Partner Policy
At Unilever, we rely on a global ecosystem of over 66,000 partners who supply us with goods and services, or distribute and sell our finished products. Despite our commitment to such a huge network of third parties, we won’t just work with anyone.
We use our scale and reach to respect and promote human rights by working only with like-minded partners who can meet our terms of trade. Since 2014, we’ve communicated these requirements through our supplier-facing Responsible Sourcing Policy and our distributor and customer-facing Responsible Business Partner Policy. As the demands of people and planet evolve, we’re evolving too, streamlining our efforts and updating our requirements to ensure they continue to advance human rights in today’s world.
That’s why, on 8 December, we launched our new Responsible Partner Policy (RPP). This brings together our two existing policies to create a single policy which outlines our commitment to responsible business with respect for human rights as its foundation, particularly in the context of modern-day challenges for society and our planet.
The mandatory requirements outlined in our RPP are just the starting point. Ideally, we want our partners to move beyond these minimum thresholds, towards leading practices that can be shared and scaled to deliver widespread industry transformation.
As our Chief Procurement Officer Willem Uijen explains: “These are really the minimum standards we expect of our business partners and, alone, they won’t be enough to generate the meaningful transformation we seek. That’s why our RPP also encourages the development of leading practices – novel, scalable solutions – that can generate new levels of positive change in society.”
The living wage promise
One of the fundamental principles of our RPP is for all workers to be paid fair wages. As part of this, we want to see partners paying a living wage, so we’ve made doing so a ‘Future Mandatory Requirement’ which we expect our partners to prepare for.
As a business, we have committed to ensuring everyone who directly provides goods and services to Unilever will earn at least a living wage or a living income by 2030. To support and track partner efforts, we launched the Living Wage/Living Income Promise in 2021, through which we share our own living wage journey and offer guidance to those intent on joining our efforts to improving lives and livelihoods and strengthening business resilience.
Similarly, Unilever’s Supplier Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Promise invites partners to demonstrate that addressing the social inequality in our value chains is of paramount importance to them.
For humans to thrive, nature must too
Respect for human rights underpins all Unilever’s Compass goals. Whether we’re committing to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, reducing waste, or improving health and wellbeing, it’s all driven by a respect for human rights.
One way we’re using nature-based solutions to advance social equity is through our rural dairy farmers initiative in India. In collaboration with on-the-ground experts, Mooo Farms, we’re working to reach 1,000 farmers across eight villages who supply milk to Unilever’s dairy supplier in Nabha, Patiala, in Punjab.
Together, we’re helping to share knowledge and implement best practices to improve cattle health and welfare and boost milk yields. In doing so, we hope to boost farmer incomes, lift dairy farming households out of poverty and reduce GHG emissions. Our aim is that, by 2025, we can cover over 3,000 farmers across several Indian districts and increase dairy farmer income by 35%.
Not only are initiatives like this the right thing to do, but they also lead to a better performing company and better performing employees.
“It’s time for us all to consider what stretching ambitions we can set to deliver meaningful change,” says Willem. “Sure, we must get the basics right first in our homes, workplaces and communities, but if that’s all we do, future humanity will still be left wanting.”