Our governance

Strong governance structures enable us to deliver our Plan, realise the benefits for the business and draw on relevant expert input.

Management structures

Our commitment to sustainable living is embedded into our business agenda through our purpose and vision and our Sustainable Living Plan. Management structures to help us fulfil our commitment are integrated into our organisational framework:

  • Sustainability and corporate responsibility are championed and led by a member of the Unilever Leadership Executive: Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communication Officer. The Unilever Leadership Executive is responsible for the operational leadership of the business.

  • Strategic development of our social and environmental goals is the responsibility of our four product categories and their global brand teams. These categories are: Foods, Personal Care, Refreshment and Home Care.

  • Implementation is rooted in our operating companies within our three regions: The Americas; Europe; Asia, Africa, Middle East and Turkey (AMET) and Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (RUB).

  • Our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Steering Team supports the Unilever Leadership Executive. A wide range of functions is represented on the Steering Team including the Presidents of our Categories, R&D, procurement, marketing, legal, finance, external affairs and customer development. This team of senior leaders meets quarterly and is chaired by Unilever Leadership Executive member, Keith Weed.

  • Governance of our conduct as a responsible corporate citizen is provided by our Board's Corporate Responsibility Committee.

  • Both our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Steering Team and Board Committee benefit from the insights of the Unilever Sustainable Development Group (USDG) – a group of external specialists in corporate responsibility and sustainability who guide and critique the development of our strategy.

This governance structure is supported by a small sustainable business team at our corporate headquarters in London, led by our Chief Sustainability Officer, who supports our Corporate Responsibility Committee and sits on the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Steering Team and Unilever Sustainable Development Group.

Our sustainable business team works with our functions, categories, brand and country teams to help embed sustainability across the business. It also tracks and reports progress on the Plan. Specialist teams support our work on sustainability such as our Safety & Environmental Assurance Centre and the Sustainable Agriculture Steering Group. These teams also obtain external input, for example through the Sustainable Sourcing Advisory Board.

Independent oversight: Corporate Responsibility Committee

We have a Board committee of Non-Executive Directors – the Corporate Responsibility Committee. Their role is to oversee Unilever’s conduct as a responsible business, including monitoring the progress – and potential risk – of the Plan and ensuring this is fed back to the Board. Three highlights of their work in 2012 included scrutiny of Unilever's Code of Business Principles, the monitoring of Unilever’s anti-bribery framework and the review of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan: Progress Report 2011.

The Committee, which meets quarterly, comprises three independent Non-Executive Directors:

  • Louise Fresco (Chair)

  • Charles Golden

  • Laura M Cha.

To ensure alignment of all these groups, Keith Weed, a member of the Unilever Leadership Executive, attends the Corporate Responsibility Committee meetings, and chairs the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Steering Team and the Unilever Sustainable Development Group.

Independent oversight: Audit Committee

One of the roles of the Board's Audit Committee is to review Unilever's overall approach to risk management and control, and its processes, outcomes and disclosure. The Committee considers the application of the Code of Business Principles as part of its remit to review risk management. It also oversees the independent assurance programme for the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Governance of our codes: Global Code & Policy Committee

The Global Code and Policy Committee, chaired by our Chief Legal Officer, oversees the implementation of the Code of Business Principles on behalf of the Unilever Leadership Executive.

Executive management

The Unilever Leadership Executive (ULE), led by our Chief Executive Officer, is responsible for managing profit and loss and delivering growth. Implementation and delivery of the Plan are monitored by the ULE – the leaders of our categories, regions and functions headed by our CEO. It is supported in matters of sustainability by the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Steering Team whose members are accountable for ensuring the goals are achieved.

External insights: Unilever Sustainable Development Group

Our strategy benefits from the insights of the Unilever Sustainable Development Group (USDG) – a group of internationally respected external specialists in corporate responsibility and sustainability. They form a panel of independent – and independently minded – experts who guide and critique the development of our strategy. We invited some of the members of this group to comment on progress in the second year of our Plan.

They are:

  • Ma Jun – Water specialist and Founder Director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPEA), China

  • Helio Mattar - Co-Founder and President of the Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption, Brazil 

  • Malini Mehra – Founder and CEO of the Centre for Social Markets, India

  • Jonathon Porritt – Founder Director of Forum for the Future, UK.

Specialist input: Safety & Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC)

SEAC's role is to provide independent scientific evidence and guidance so that Unilever can identify and manage:

  • risks for consumers, workers and the environment with regard to the safety of products and supply chain technology

  • environmental impacts, with regard to the sustainability of Unilever's brands, products and supply chain.

SEAC have used their long-standing expertise in lifecycle assessment to help develop the environmental metrics and the approach to measuring our baseline in greenhouse gases, water and waste for the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. See Peer review of metrics.

Specialist input: Sustainable Agriculture Steering Group

The Sustainable Agriculture Steering Group comprises Unilever staff from around the world responsible for managing our Sustainable Agriculture Initiative. Its objective is to promote sustainable supply chains, focusing on long-term, sustainable access to Unilever's key crops. Professor Jules Pretty from the University of Essex in the UK acts as principal adviser to the Group.

The Steering Group benefits from the input of the Sustainable Sourcing Advisory Board, which comprises experts from diverse backgrounds such as not-for-profit organisations, research institutes, companies and academia. Its role is to provide independent advice and judgement and to strengthen policy-making within Unilever. In particular its members provide advice on key aspects of our Plan, namely the sustainable sourcing of raw materials and engaging with smallholders – and various areas that impact sustainability in our value chain such as biodiversity, the use of chemicals, labour conditions and poverty alleviation. See Agricultural sourcing partnerships.

Other programmes

Our Environmental Impact team, Sustainability Champions' Network and Sustainable Packaging Steering team are examples of how teams come together to work on specific issues. These groups work to assess Unilever's footprint, formulate strategy, agree policy, work with category and brand teams to set specific goals and support the teams in implementing them. They also seek advice from external experts.