Public Policy & Advocacy

We need to actively engage with governments and regulators to create an environment that can help us achieve the commitments set out in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. The private sector, governments and NGOs can achieve a lot more if they work together in partnerships. To see what we mean, watch this ‘Power of Partnerships’ video – produced by Unilever as an input to the UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Our approach

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan sets out our vision for a future in which people can improve their quality of life without increasing their environmental footprint. This means we need to develop new ways of doing business which will increase the positive benefits from our activities whilst reducing the negative impacts.

Many of the impacts of our operations fall outside our direct control so we need to engage governments to create an environment that is supportive to meeting the big sustainability challenges the world faces. These range from local infrastructure that supports consumer recycling through to trade terms that support sustainably sourced agricultural commodities.

Our Code of Business Principles guides all aspects of our conduct internally and with external parties. It commits us to behave with honesty, integrity and openness, and with respect for the human rights and interests of our employees and other stakeholders and to obey the laws of the countries in which we operate. In line with our Code, we do not support political parties or fund groups that promote party interests.

Advocacy for sustainability

We believe that Unilever should play an active role in shaping legislation and regulations that enhance positive social and environmental outcomes. For example, one of the most important contributions we can make towards tackling climate change is through supporting the call for ambitious reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions – as we did at the UNFCCC Conferences from Copenhagen in 2009 to Warsaw in 2013 and also the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio in 2012, and as we will continue to do in preparation for future sustainability summits.

In 2011, we implemented a new approach to advocacy. We created a new advocacy team with the aim of working together with other stakeholders to bring about changes in public policy in key areas of health and sustainability. We chose areas where we can make the biggest difference and which are most relevant to achieving the ambitious targets in our Plan. These include:

  • Influencing climate policy to achieve a policy environment which promotes low carbon development and a reduction in deforestation.

  • Promoting the importance of washing hands with soap in countries where this issue is not high on the public health agenda.

  • Improving recycling and waste infrastructures to increase national recycling rates.

  • Supporting sustainable agricultural practices, for example by enhancing trade policy terms for sustainably sourced agricultural commodities.

We are now actively engaged in these areas and working with a wide range of NGOs, experts, practitioners and intergovernmental institutions.


As part of our approach to advocacy and sustainability, Unilever was present at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio in June 2012. We published a Rio+20 manifesto which set out the issues we felt should be taken into consideration by the intergovernmental process. We sought to engage directly both in the period preceding the conference and at the conference itself, in order to influence the outcome.


In July 2012, Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman was appointed to the UN High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (HLP). The HLP’s report, entitled “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development(Link opens in a new window)" was formally presented to the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon on 30 May 2013 as a contribution to the wider debate in the run up to the adoption of revised development goals in September 2015. The Panel’s report is one of several work streams(Link opens in a new window) that will feed into the Post-2015 Development Agenda.


Convened by the UN Secretary-General, the HLP was a 27-member task-force mandated to advise the UNSG on the Global Development Agenda after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015.

Co-chaired by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and President Susilo Yudhoyono of Indonesia, the HLP brought together representatives from governments, the private sector, civil society and academia. The Panel discussed issues such as poverty reduction, economic growth, social equality and environmental sustainability.

As one of only two representatives from the private sector on the Panel, Paul Polman was keen to reach out to a wide range of companies in order that their views on the future development agenda, and crucially, the role of business in ensuring a sustainable, equitable future for all, were incorporated into the HLP’s recommendations.


Unilever completed an extensive programme of private sector outreach and worked closely with business organisations such as the UN Global Compact and World Business Council for Sustainable Development in order to ensure that the voice of business was well represented in the Panel's view. We consulted with over 300 companies and worked closely with the Global Compact and all major international business associations. The combined revenues of consulted businesses exceeded US$8 trillion and represent over 10% of global GDP.

The outreach has shown a growing recognition of the business case for tackling major social and environmental challenges that confront us all. The findings show that business can contribute to the systemic change needed to realise poverty reduction and environmental sustainability on a global scale. This belief is at the heart of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Please see Download to read more.

The High-Level Panel submitted its report to the UN Secretary-General in summer 2013.  It was well received both by the Secretary-General himself and also a wide variety of stakeholders.  As a result of our active efforts to shape this agenda, Paul Polman was honoured to be invited to address the United Nations Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals, to further share our vision of a goal framework that unites social, environmental and economic goals in a way that will deliver increased prosperity for all.

Food security

We have been actively engaging on the issue of food security. We believe we have an important contribution to make to this debate given our long-standing experience in sustainable sourcing of agricultural commodities.

Food security is a growing global concern, given that the world’s food supply will need to grow by 70% to feed the world’s growing population and over a billion people around the world are still malnourished today.

Food price volatility due to a combination of factors led to social unrest in 2008. During 2011 the price of food commodities spiked again. This has led to a series of questions about the global food security situation. Can we produce enough food to meet the nutritional needs of a growing population? Can we ensure access to food for all who need it, even when prices increase? Can we produce food in an environmentally sustainable way?

In November 2011 our CEO Paul Polman attended the business meeting of the G20 Heads of State and Government in his capacity as co-chair of the B20 Working Group on Development and Food Security. On behalf of the global business community he proposed four key areas for action, all of which were included in the G20 conclusions:

  • Improving the functioning of global food markets to provide stability and predictability.

  • Improving agricultural productivity by increasing investments from public and private sources by 50% by 2015.

  • Integrating environmental sustainability into national food security programmes.

  • Enabling technology transfer to developing countries.

Public policy engagement

We encourage our companies to engage with local governments and other organisations to help inform public policy. This is done both directly and through bodies such as trade associations. We take part in multi-stakeholder debates and when relevant respond to public consultations. We also engage with organisations that are critical of our actions and seek to understand and address their concerns.

With products on sale in over 190 countries, we have many hundreds of separate memberships and dialogues at national level. We list some of our principal memberships of business associations at EU and international level in Engaging with stakeholders.

In Europe, Unilever has subscribed to the Code of Conduct for Public Affairs Professionals as developed by the Society for European Affairs Professionals. We have also expressed our support for the European Transparency Initiative and are now listed in the European Transparency Register, which enables anyone to obtain information on our interests and funding.