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Responding department: Global Social Impact - part of the team led by the Chief Sustainability Officer

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Does your company have a publicly available commitment to respect human rights?

It is a stand-alone "human rights" policy - [link]

Please see our Code of Business Principles: [link];

Our Responsible Sourcing Policy [link]

And the Fairness in the Workplace pillar of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan [link].

Please also note that the Opportunities for Women pillar of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan also specifically calls out respecting the rights of women: [link]

Update 2016:

Yes, it is a stand-alone "human rights" policy [link].

Please see our Code of Business Principles, including our Respect, Dignity & Fair Treatment policy [link]

Our Responsible Sourcing Policy [link].

Responsible Business Partner Policy [link]

And the Fairness in the Workplace pillar of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan [link].

Please also note that the Opportunities for Women pillar of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan also specifically calls out respecting the rights of women [link]

Link to human rights report: [link]

How are human rights governed in your company?

Our work in this area is overseen by the Unilever Chief Executive Officer, supported by the Unilever Leadership Executive including the Chief Supply Chain Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer and the Chief Legal Officer and also the Chief Sustainability Officer and the Global Vice President for Social Impact. This ensures that every part of our business is clear about the responsibility to respect human rights.

Board-level oversight is provided by the Corporate Responsibility Committee of Unilever PLC. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is our blueprint for how we do business and its Fairness in the Workplace pillar is all about respecting and where necessary protecting the human rights of those in our own operations and our extended supply chain. It’s about acting to remedy abuses when they are identified and working to improve practices. Please also see the speech by our CEO Paul Polman at the opening plenary of the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights (Dec 2014): [link]

Update 2016:

Our commitment is led from the top. Our work in human rights is overseen by Unilever’s Chief Executive Officer and supported by the Unilever Leadership Executive - including the Chief Supply Chain Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Chief Legal Officer – as well as the Chief Sustainability Officer and the Global Vice President for Social Impact. Additional Board-level oversight is provided by the Corporate Responsibility Committee.

At Unilever, our business has been guided by the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) ([link]), which serves as our blueprint for sustainable growth. Our ambition is to make sustainable living commonplace and we’ve been focused on developing a new way of doing business where sustainability drives everything we do. Respecting human rights is a foundational principles of our USLP. In 2014, we formalised our commitment to human rights by creating a new Fairness in the Workplace ([link]) pillar under the Enhancing Livelihoods ([link]) ambition of the USLP and committing to a goal to advance human rights across our operations and extended supply chain by 2020.

We began to formally organise corporate leadership on the topic of human rights by appointing a Global Vice President for Social Impact in 2013 to lead the integration of our work in respecting and promoting human rights across Unilever.

The Unilever Leadership Executive regularly discusses human rights as part of the overall USLP strategy, reviewing specific issues when the severity of an actual or potential impact is high, where a business-critical decision needs to be taken, or where substantial financial investment may be needed to address the impact.

How are human rights managed within your company?

Firstly, we are committed to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Secondly, we have a clear policy framework which includes our Code of Business Principles, our internal Respect, Dignity and Fair Treatment Code Policy and our Responsible Sourcing Policy. Our Human Rights Policy has been integrated through all our Code Policies. In our business dealings we expect our partners to adhere to business principles consistent with our own. We will only work with suppliers who implement our Responsible Sourcing Policy and they must agree to ensure transparency, to remedy any shortcomings, and to drive continuous improvement. We recognise that we must take steps to identify and address any actual or potential adverse impacts with which we may be involved whether directly or indirectly through our own activities or our business relationships. We manage these risks by integrating the responses to our due diligence into our policies and internal systems, acting on the findings, tracking our actions, and communicating with our stakeholders about how we address impacts. We understand that human rights due diligence is an ongoing process that requires particular attention at certain stages in our business activities, such as when we form new partnerships or our operating conditions change, as these changes may create new potential or actual impacts on human rights. We continue to build the awareness and knowledge of our employees and workers on human rights, including labour rights. In certain countries where we operate, there are particularly high, systemic risks of human rights abuses. We understand that this means that we must put in place additional due diligence to assess these risks and address them effectively, where appropriate, using our leverage to work either in one-to-one relationships or in broad-based partnerships. We also conduct independent assessments.

Update 2016:

We apply the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to underpin our own high standards of corporate behaviour. These principles help us identify and tackle systemic causes of abuse, working collaboratively and openly with others.

In line with the UNGP Framework, our human rights report ([link]) focuses on our salient human rights issues. These are human rights that are at risk of the most severe negative impacts through a company’s activities or business relationships. The first step was to identify them. This process began with an internal, cross-functional workshop facilitated by Shift ([link]). Following the UN Guiding Principles approach, we looked at a range of potential human rights impacts resulting from the types of activities we are involved in, and prioritised those likely to be the most severe were they to occur, based on how grave the impacts to the rights-holder could be, how widespread they are and how difficult it would be to remedy any resulting harm.

We drew on previous conversations with external bodies such as the World Economic Forum Global Advisory Council on Human Rights, the Global Social Compliance Programme, AIM-PROGRESS, the UN Global Compact and others at the core of the policy implementation, and held discussions with the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Council. We identified issues that were coming to the fore in response to the deployment of the Responsible Sourcing Policy ([link]). We also considered issues being raised in the Global Code and Policy Committee and our Procurement Code Committee.

The process of identifying our most salient human rights issues was an important element of our reporting exercise. This demanded issue prioritisation, integration of an understanding of the perspectives of affected stakeholders and verification with expert stakeholders of the salient issues identified. For 2014, our consultations identified our most salient human rights issues as discrimination, fair wages, forced labour, freedom of association, harassment, health and safety, land rights and working hours.

Engaging across our business functions and geographies, our focus is on creating awareness, engagement, training and effective implementation of our expanded policy framework. We have strengthened our capacity building and training programmes and share good and best practices both internally and with our suppliers. However, our commitments are not credible or accountable unless they are part of an active process of compliance, monitoring and reporting. The Unilever Board is responsible for this process, and day-to-day responsibility lies with senior management around the world. Checks are made on this process by Unilever Corporate Audit and by our external auditors.

We place importance on the provision of effective remedy wherever human rights impacts occur through company-based grievance mechanisms. We continue to build the awareness and knowledge of our employees and workers on human rights, including labour rights, encouraging them to speak up, without retribution, about any concerns they may have, including through our grievance channels. We are committed to continue increasing the capacity of our management to effectively identify and respond to concerns. We also promote the provision of effective grievance mechanisms by our suppliers.

What is the company’s approach to the engagement of stakeholders (including workers, and local communities impacted by the company’s activities), on human rights issues?

We recognise the importance of dialogue with our employees, workers and external stakeholders who are or could potentially be affected by our actions. We pay particular attention to individuals or groups who may be at greater risk of negative human rights impacts due to their vulnerability or marginalisation and recognise that women and men may face different risks. Stakeholder engagement is an important both internally, as an ongoing process for specific initiatives, and externally, engaging with key opinion formers.

Update 2016:

We recognise the importance of dialogue with our employees, workers and external stakeholders who are or could potentially be affected by our actions. We pay particular attention to individuals or groups who may be at greater risk of negative human rights impacts due to their vulnerability or marginalisation and recognise that women and men may face different risks.

Our dialogue with suppliers and business partners is critical, where our suppliers feel able actively to raise issues so that we can work together to share best practices and respond to challenges as they emerge. To keep the lines of communication open, our procurement managers work directly with suppliers to help identify risks and remediate gaps in policies and practices.

Our Advocacy team plays a key role in working with our external stakeholders including governments, intergovernmental organisations, and civil society representatives. This engagement is supported locally by the External Affairs teams in our markets. Organisations such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Consumer Goods Forum, United Nations Global Compact, the World Economic Forum and the B-Team ([link]) are vital to realising our shared ambition of reaching a critical mass of leaders who can bring about systemic change.

Priority human rights issues: What are some of the priority human rights issues for your company?

The company selected the following from a check list:

  • Health (including environmental health, workplace health & safety)
  • Workplace diversity / non-discrimination
  • Forced labour and human trafficking (including in supply chains)
  • Operations in conflict zones
  • Sexual harassment
  • Displacement and community relocation (including land rights more generally/use of contract labour/grievance mechanisms)
  • Access to water
  • Freedom of association and trade union rights
  • Conflict minerals
  • Transparency in payments to governments /
  • responsible tax practices
  • Product Misuse
  • Women
  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • Children (including child labour)
  • Indigenous peoples
  • Migrant workers

Update 2016:

The company selected the following from a check list:

  • Health (including environmental health, workplace health & safety) - see p.38 of Human Rights report [link]
  • Workplace diversity / non-discrimination - see p.28 of Human Rights report
  • Forced labour and human trafficking (including in supply chains) - see p.32 of Human Rights report
  • Sexual harassment – see p.35-37 of Human Rights report 
  • Displacement and community relocation (including land rights more generally/use of contract labour/grievance mechanisms) - see p.43 of Human Rights report
  • Access to water – see water section of USLP [link]
  • Freedom of association and trade union rights - see p.33 of Human Rights report
  • Product Misuse – See article on BAMA [link]
  • Women – see women section of USLP [link]
  • Children (including child labour) – See Unicef’s children’s rights and business principles [link]
  • Indigenous peoples - see p.43 of Human Rights report
  • Migrant workers - see p.32 of Human Rights report
  • Fair wages - see p.30 of Human Rights report
  • Working hours - see p.44 of Human Rights report

Our salient issues can be found on p25 of Human Rights report.

Human Rights Report

Actions on sexual harassment

Sexual Harassment – please see here: [link]

How are human rights commitments and information about how the company addresses its human rights impacts communicated, internally and externally?

Commitments and information are communicated through our Human Rights Policy Statement and through the annual update of the Fairness in the Workplace Pillar of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Please also note that, from 2015, we have committed to publically report on our progress in implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights using the Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative (RAFI). We also greatly value engagement with civil society; trade union representatives such as the International Union of Food workers; organisations such as the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and with responsible investors and their associated organisations.

Internally, we have created a ‘Social Impact’ hub, an internal website which contains information including best practice guidance on issues such as the use of contract and migrant labour. We also have an internal ‘twitter’ equivalent network called “Enhancing Livelihoods” where we share latest internal and external news and connect those employees who are particularly interested in our work in this area, including around human and labour rights. In 2013 and 2014 we marked Human Rights Day by, in 2013, recording members of our Leadership Executive talking about what human rights means to them and in 2014 recording our employees talking about their everyday work to enhance livelihoods.

Update 2016:

In 2015, we published our first human rights report ([link]) and continue to raise internal and external awareness and build capacity in our extended supply chain. Other external documents where we communicate our human right commitments include our Annual Report ([link]), summary of progress report ([link]), and the Enhancing Livelihoods ([link]) pillar of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) ([link]), our blueprint for sustainable and responsible business.

Our internal ambition is for every one of our employees around the world to understand what our commitment to human rights means to in her or his job and to feel empowered to translate that commitment into action. This is led from the top as illustrated by blogs and speeches from our CEO and members of our Leadership Executive. Our employee engagement activities are informed by the challenges we face around the world and tailored to our teams working in the field. Some examples of our engagement is as follows:

  • Creation of a Social Impact Hub on our internal employee portal to serve as a central place for employees to learn more about how we create positive social impact across our business. 
  • Celebrating Human Rights Day: in 2013 we filmed members of our Leadership Executive, asking them what human rights mean to them personally and why they matter to our business. In 2014, following the creation of our new Fairness in the Workplace pillar of the USLP, we asked employees how they were enhancing livelihoods, and in 2015 we raised internal awareness of our eight salient human rights issues as described in our human rights report.
  • Creation of The Enhancing Livelihoods Chatter group; our internal social media network where people ask questions and share information about what they are doing.

Our Code of Business Principles commits us to running our operations with honesty, integrity and openness. Our approach is always to investigate, understand and discuss any issues of concern and respond. Often the issues raised are complex. This means we cannot always respond as immediately as our stakeholders would like because it takes time to investigate and check facts. In some cases, there are no clear-cut right or wrong answers. In other instances, issues cannot be addressed by Unilever in isolation. They may require wider engagement with industry and other stakeholders. This page on our website ([link]) explains in more detail how we respond to stakeholder concerns on human rights.

What provisions does your company have in place to ensure that grievances from workers and affected communities or individuals are heard, and can you provide examples of remedies provided?

We place importance on the provision of effective remedy wherever human rights impacts occur through company- based grievance mechanisms. We encourage our employees and workers to speak up, without retribution, about any concerns they may have, including through our grievance channels. We are committed to continue increasing the capacity of our management to effectively identify and respond to concerns. We also promote the provision of effective grievance mechanisms by our suppliers. We expect and encourage both our employees and our business partners to speak up and bring to our attention any breach of our Code Policies. Employees can report concerns to their Line Manager, local Code Officer, or a member of their local Code Committee. Alternatively, they can use the confidential ‘Code Support Line’ (whistleblowing line) using the telephone or internet. Review and due diligence process and complaints procedures are also available. More information regarding grievances and remedy will be available later in 2015 as part of our public reporting commitment.

Update 2016:

Grievance mechanisms play a critical role in opening channels for dialogue, problem solving, investigation and, when required, providing remedy. Employees can raise grievances through their trade union representative, line manager and/or their Human Resources representative. There are ad hoc means of dialogue such as meetings and open forums that can be effective methods of communication, although these do not replace formal structures. In some of our operations such as our plantations, for example, we have welfare officers who play a key role in supporting employees in raising grievances.

In our factories, we monitor the number and type of formal individual or collective appeals received each year. We use disaggregated data from cases raised through this procedure to help monitor our salient issues, addressing root causes to help prevent the need for further grievances to be raised.

We currently have one global system to raise grievances, which is through our global code policies. We want to make sure we offer one integrated code and grievance channel to our employees to raise issues and concerns in a simple manner. However, we recognise that locally determined grievance mechanisms have value and therefore are examining external and internal best practices to come up with the right solutions.
We are working with the company that manages our anonymous hotline to improve the quality of information gained from a reported by changing the focus of the conversation.

For our extended supply chain, our Responsible Sourcing Policy ([link]) states that workers must have access to fair procedures and remedies that are transparent, confidential and result in swift, unbiased and fair resolution.

Which external and collaborative human rights initiatives does your company participate in, and what is the nature of your involvement?

Our CEO, Paul Polman, is a Board member of the UN Global Compact and Unilever is a member of the Human Rights Working Group; our Global VP Social Impact is Vice-Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Advisory Council on Human Rights; we are members of the Consumer Goods Forum and the Global Social Compliance Programme; we work with the Fair Wage Network. We have engaged with NGOs on independent assessments such as Oxfam in Vietnam.

Update 2016:

We regularly engage with expert organisations such as Shift and the Institute for Human Rights and Business, and with trade unions such as IndustriALL and IUF and civil society organisations, such as Oxfam, on working labour rights.

In 2013, Oxfam published a report – ‘Labour Rights in Unilever’s Supply Chain – from compliance to good practice’ ([link]) which examined our operations in Vietnam as well as our global supply chain. The aim of the report, which marked the first time a company had given open access to its supply chain for this type of project, was to help us better understand how to realise the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in our operations, and how we could further improve and refine the labour standards of our workers. In response, we made a series of commitments, which included working with Oxfam on a progress review after two years. This new report – ‘Labour rights in Vietnam: Unilever’s progress and systemic challenges’ ([link]) recognises the progress we have made over the last two years.

We support the Children’s Rights and Business Principles developed by UNICEF, Save the Children and the UN Global Compact. Our CEO, Paul Polman is a Board member of the UN Global Compact and our Global VP Social Impact is Vice-Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Advisory Council on Human Rights. She recently co-authored this paper “Shared Responsibility: A new paradigm for supply chains” ([link]).

We are members of industry organsiations such as the Consumer Goods Forum, and are actively involved in their rallying call to fight forced labour ([link]). We are also members of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, where we use our membership to work with other businesses to scale up solutions to human rights issues. Along with four other companies, we are part of a new collaboration, the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, facilitated by the Institute of Human Rights and Business, focused on promoting ethical recruitment and combating the exploitation of migrant works in global supply chains across industries.

We have signed a partnership agreement with non-profit organisation Solidaridad to work with our suppliers on issues such as gender equity and improving labour practices. We have worked with expert organisations to develop best practice guidelines on issues including contract and child labour.

Which are the key one, two or three elements of your approach to human rights that been developed or amended since June 2011? Please indicate if these actions were in response to the UN Guiding Principles.

  • The appointment in 2013 of a Global VP for Social Impact to lead our human rights work and ensure alignment with the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP)
  • Strengthening the Enhancing Livelihoods ambition of the USLP, by creating a pillar of work with a focus on human rights, and putting additional focus on increasing our positive social impact
  • The creation and implementation of the Unilever Responsible Sourcing Policy
  • Alignment of all Code Policies with our Human Rights Policy Statement and RSP.

The creation of the UNGPs were an important driver of these changes, but not the only driver as this also reflected the on-going development of how we wanted to conduct our business going forward.

Update 2016:

  • The appointment in 2013 of a Global VP for Social Impact to lead our human rights work and ensure alignment with the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). 
  • Formalising our commitment to human rights by creating a new Fairness in the Workplace ([link]) pillar under the Enhancing Livelihoods ([link]) ambitions of the USLP and committing to a goal to advance human rights across our operations and extended supply chain by 2020.The creation and implementation of the Unilever Responsible Sourcing Policy ([link]).
  • Publishing our inaugural Human Rights report ([link]) in 2015, aligned with the UNGP Reporting Framework.

The creation of the UNGPs were an important driver of these changes, but not the only driver as this also reflected the on-going development of how we want to conduct our business going forward.

What are some of the obstacles and challenges that your company encounters in implementing its human rights commitments?

We will provide more information in response to the above question as part of our public report later in 2015.

Update 2016:

Human rights are universal and inalienable and their respect – and promotion – form the foundation of enhancing livelihoods. Our human rights report ([link]) represents a commitment to document the foundational steps we have taken to ensure our business embodies principles, behaviours and practices consistent with that belief. While we have made progress, there is still much to be done. Our commitment to address system challenges requires the involvement of multiple participants. We will not succeed alone.

As an interconnected global community, we can only make progress by working in partnership with others, including governments, businesses, NGOs and others. We see the need to move away from a traditional ‘compliance’ approach to one of social sustainability, based on knowledge and capacity building. This will assist with driving best practices across industries, including exploring a more incentives-based system to drive the move from ‘do no harm’ to ‘do good’, in part to alleviate the tension between commercial and competitive pressures.

These challenges and many more remain ahead as we continue our vision to grow our business, whilst decoupling our environmental footprint from our growth and increasing our positive social impact. The two must align to succeed in making sustainable living, with the respect of human rights as a core principle, commonplace.

Our priorities over the next three years are:

  • Embedding respect for, and promotion of, human rights across our business.
  • Addressing our eight salient issues as identified in our human rights report ([link]).
  • Commodity and geographical focus. Our focus will be on key commodities – tea, palm oil, soy and non-renewables. We will continue to focus on key geographical areas, carrying out further Human Rights Impact Assessments. We pay particular attention to individuals or groups who may be at greater risk of negative human rights impacts due to their vulnerability or marginalisation and recognise that women and men may face different risks.
  • Collective action: we will continue to collaborate with other companies, NGOs and trade associations as well as governments and other stakeholders who are already addressing issues by root cause and influencing systemic change. This is especially true for water, sugar and cocoa and will include going beyond Tier 1 suppliers to the more challenging Tiers 2 and 3.
  • Building frameworks for better data collection, verification and analysis and quantitative metrics to inform better reporting.