Independent assurance

External assurance of sustainability performance indicators is important to us. Unilever’s environmental reporting has been independently assured since 1996. In 2011 we started the process to assure selected key performance indicators in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Our approach to assurance

Accuracy and reliability of reported information is dependent on our governance and systems, processes and controls all being in place to record and report the information.

It is the responsibility of Unilever’s management to ensure that appropriate procedures are in place to prepare the necessary performance data ready for independent assurance procedures and that:

  • the reported information reflects our performance;
  • the data is meaningful and is consistent with the stated definitions, scope and boundaries;
  • any specific exclusions are stated clearly and explained;
  • we describe openly any assumptions we make as well as our accounting and calculation methods; and
  • we aim for transparency to enable users to have confidence in the integrity of our reporting.

Our environmental reporting has been supported by independent external assurance since we first started reporting in 1996 and our social report was assured for the first time in 2004. Our previously separate social and environmental reports were merged in 2005 and subsequent sustainability reports have included external assurance of selected key performance indicators (KPIs) ever since.

Documents relating to assurance in the years prior to 2012 are available in our Publications archive.

Some of the information that we include in our sustainability reporting comes from our annual financial report.

Assurance 2012

In 2012 we appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) to provide independent assurance of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

In the second year of their assurance work, PwC’s scope was to provide limited assurance of selected Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) and Environmental and Occupational Safety (EOS) performance measures. The USLP measures were selected on the basis of their criticality - for more on our definition of criticality see below. The environmental performance indicators were chosen because they reflect the main environmental aspects for our manufacturing sites covering utilities consumption and all environmental media (waste, air and water pollution). A safe workplace environment is a top priority and therefore our occupational safety indicators are key measures for our business.

The performance measures covered were: Lifebuoy; Pureit; concentrated/compacted and One Rinse laundry products; palm oil; soy; tea; Shakti entrepreneurs; greenhouse gases, water and waste in our manufacturing operations; and occupational safety. Progress towards our 2020 Nutrition commitment was also assured. See Unilever’s Basis of Preparation 2012 for a full description of all the USLP and EOS performance measures.

The work completed by PwC and their conclusion is described in their Assurance Report, published in August 2013.

Unilever’s Basis of Preparation and PwC’s Assurance Report

The Basis of Preparation summarises the definition, organisational boundary and data preparation for the USLP and EOS performance measures that have been subject to limited assurance procedures by PwC - see Unilever’s Basis of Preparation 2012 document in the Downloads.

PwC’s Assurance Report - concluding their work for the reporting period to 31 December 2012 – is also available as a Download.

Adjustments

To allow our sustainability reporting to be published at the same time as our Annual Report and Accounts 2012, we reported data for all of our USLP and EOS performance measures in both the hard copy Unilever Sustainable Living Plan: Progress Report 2012 and here online at the end of April 2013. Differences identified between preliminary reported data and final assured were considered to be immaterial and therefore we have not made any adjustments.

Assurance to 2020

For the future assurance of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we have developed a phased approach to 2020 that will enable us to obtain assurance over the seven commitments which are central to our Plan.

In the transition to assuring the seven commitments, the underlying performance indicators supporting each commitment will be selected on the basis of criticality. This follows a detailed internal assessment carried out in 2012.

Our definition of criticality includes the following factors:

  • materiality – the importance of the metric’s contribution to the commitment;
  • maturity – the metric’s stage of development; and
  • proximity to target completion.

Although our environmental indicators for manufacturing and our occupational health and safety indicators do not directly contribute to the achievement of our seven commitments, we consider them crucial for our business and they will always be considered for assurance. In addition, we recognise that the need may sometimes arise for external assurance of specific metrics, such as those with a higher reputational risk.

Unlike financial accounting standards or carbon reporting, there are currently no industry norms or globally recognised practices for evaluating and measuring many of the targets in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. It is groundbreaking work that will evolve over the coming years.