Engaging with stakeholders

Listening to others and learning from our stakeholders informs our decision-making, strengthens our relationships and helps us deliver our commitments and succeed as a business.

Our approach

Many of the issues the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan seeks to address fall outside our direct control, so we need to engage governments and many others to create an environment that is supportive of meeting the big sustainability and health challenges the world faces and to do so with a sense of urgency. Reaching our Plan’s targets depends on the quality of our relationships with a range of people and organisations that have a stake in our business.

With some, such as our customers, employees, suppliers and investors, the relationship is based on direct engagement or financial involvement with the business. Others, such as governments and regulators, local communities, civil society organisations, academics and individual concerned citizens, have a wider interest in what we do and in our impacts on society and the environment.

Across all our activities we seek to engage with stakeholders to help us reach our Sustainable Living Plan targets, identify issues of concern, guide our strategy and reporting and provide feedback on specific areas of activity. Working in partnership is crucial in developing and delivering some of our major commitments.

How do we deal with issues?

Engaging with our stakeholders is a critical part of the way we manage issues across our business. Our products are on sale in over 190 countries and we operate in an increasingly interconnected world. We have put in place a governance model underpinned by a Crisis Prevention and Response standard and issues management guidelines.

Issues management in Unilever has three building blocks:

  • monitoring and listening;
  • planning for potential impacts; and
  • acting fast but thoroughly and in a co-ordinated way.

We assess issues on the basis of their potential impact on our brands; our business and reputation; and the probability of occurrence. Our assessment is increasingly guided by the commitments in our Sustainable Living Plan.

How do we engage with our stakeholders?

The variety of our relationships means we engage in different ways, depending on the nature of the interest, the relevance to the business and the most practical way to meet stakeholders' specific needs and expectations.

Inspiring people to change their behaviour is central to meeting many of the goals in our Sustainable Living Plan. For example we need to encourage people to wash their hands with soap at the right times or wash their clothes at lower temperatures. Our brand teams are in continuous conversation with our consumers to understand their diverse tastes, needs and trends. We operate consumer carelines, provide information about our business, brands and their campaigns through many websites, and conduct detailed consumer research to understand people’s habits and attitudes.

With other stakeholders, for example local governments and civil society organisations, our operating companies and specialists in areas such as safety and environmental impact, sustainable sourcing and nutrition have regular meetings, participate in research projects, surveys and symposia, and contribute to public policy and special-interest group debates.

Our Corporate Responsibility Committee

The Corporate Responsibility Committee oversees Unilever’s conduct as a responsible multinational business. The Committee is also charged with ensuring that Unilever’s reputation is protected and enhanced. A key element of the role is the need to identify any external developments which are likely to have an influence upon Unilever’s standing in society and to bring these to the attention of the Boards. The Committee also monitors progress on Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan and reviews any potential risks that could affect Unilever’s reputation. It is made up of three independent Non-Executive Directors. Our Chief Marketing & Communication Officer attends the Committee’s meetings.

The Committee’s discussions are informed by the perspectives of Unilever’s two sustainability leadership groups, both of which are chaired by the Chief Marketing & Communication Officer. The first is the Unilever Sustainable Development Group (USDG) – a group of experts from outside Unilever who advise our senior leadership on Unilever’s sustainability strategy. The second is the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Steering Team – the group of Unilever’s senior executives who are accountable for driving sustainable growth.

The USDG meets twice a year with our senior leaders to critique our strategy and share insights on sustainability issues and trends. It is made up of external experts with environment, social and economic expertise in both developed and developing countries. See the Corporate Governance section of the Annual Report and Accounts 2012 for more information.

Decisions to engage are made at local, regional and global levels, and the results inform our business decision-making. We focus on issues where we can make the biggest difference and which are most relevant to achieving the ambitious targets in our Plan.

Generally, we find that constructive dialogue with all stakeholders, including with those who may criticise Unilever, helps our understanding of the dilemmas we face when implementing our sustainability plan and business operations in a responsible way.

Updating stakeholders on progress on the plan

We launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in November 2010 and published our first report on progress in April 2012. Coinciding with the launch of the report, we invited stakeholders from around the world to a series of global dialogues on our progress. At these events, which took place in London, São Paulo, Rotterdam, Washington, Delhi and a further 13 cities worldwide, we encouraged feedback from our stakeholders as well as ideas, insights and opportunities for collaboration.

In April 2012 we also ran the first Unilever Sustainable Living Lab, a 24-hour online global dialogue on the key sustainability challenges faced by the world and businesses such as Unilever. The objective of the Sustainable Living Lab was to identify opportunities for co-operation to overcome some of the structural barriers to sustainability, co-create new ideas, share good practice and learn from others.

The lab brought together a cross-section of people from governments, NGOs and businesses to discuss the themes of sustainable sourcing, production and distribution, consumer behaviour change, and waste and recycling. It attracted over 2,200 registrants from 77 countries and almost 4,000 comments were posted. The findings were shared in a summary report with participants.

The outputs from the events and the Sustainable Living Lab were passed back into the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Steering Team, comprising senior leaders from across the business, as well as the Unilever Leadership Executive, the Corporate Responsibility Committee and the Unilever Sustainable Development Group.

Our Sustainable Living Lab Series

Unilever will launch its Sustainable Living Lab Series for 2013 on 24 April 2013. Instead of a continuous 24-hour discussion, there will be a series of shorter Labs for addressing some of the most difficult challenges faced in the journey towards sustainable growth.

In response to valuable feedback from last year’s Lab, there will still be a live online global dialogue, but with more focus on actionable outcomes. The Lab will be kept open for viewing after the event, as a resource for participants.


Increasingly, we are building longer-term partnerships with inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations. These focus on the practical actions we can take to reach our sustainability targets, as well as deepen our understanding of the issues we are facing. Our partners bring expertise on specific questions as well as the networks to deliver practical initiatives and make an impact on the ground.

Through the Unilever Foundation we are partnering with five leading global organisations – Oxfam, PSI, Save the Children, UNICEF and the World Food Programme. The Foundation is dedicated to improving quality of life through the provision of hygiene, sanitation, access to clean drinking water, basic nutrition and enhancing self-esteem. By working together, we will be able to expand the delivery of life-saving solutions to drive systemic and scalable social change.

Business associations and alliances

Given that we have operations in more than 190 countries, it is not possible to list all our engagement activity with stakeholders.

Our principal business associations – particularly where we are engaged in dialogue with governments and regulators – are set out in the table below.

Unilever memberships: key European & international industry associations & advocacy organisations

Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP)


BASCAP works with the global business community to more efficiently identify and address intellectual property rights issues and petition for greater commitments by local, national and international officials in the enforcement and protection of intellectual property rights. While carrying out these functions BASCAP also works to increase public awareness of the problems and dangers associated with intellectual property rights violations.

Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC)


BIAC is an independent organisation officially recognised by the OECD as being representative of the OECD business community. BIAC's members are the major industrial and employers' organisations in the 30 OECD member countries. Via its 34 standing committees and policy groups, BIAC mirrors all economic policy issues the OECD covers, and their impacts on both member countries and an increasing number of non-member countries such as Russia and China.



BusinessEurope represents the voice of business in Europe. Its membership comprises national business federations throughout Europe and its mission is to release entrepreneurial energy; boost innovation; unleash the internal market of 25+; improve the functioning of the labour market; make environmental policy more effective and efficient; and foster international trade investment.

Cosmetics Europe


Cosmetics Europe represents more than 2 000 companies operating in the European cosmetic, toiletry and perfumery industry, which has an annual turnover of €58.1 billion. It is committed to the ongoing development of safe, innovative and effective products and to continuously meeting the demands of consumers through intensive market research and enhanced product information.

FoodDrinkEurope (FDE)


FoodDrinkEurope represents the interests of the food and drink industries in Europe. It is committed to an environment where all European food and drink companies can compete effectively for sustainable growth in the context of an enlarged EU and global markets. It does this by contributing to the development of a legislative and economic framework addressing competitiveness, food quality and safety, consumer information and respect for the environment.

European Brands Association [Association des Industries de Marque](AIM)


AIM represents the interests of brand manufacturers and 21 national branding associations. Its mission is to create for brands an environment of fair and vigorous competition, fostering innovation and guaranteeing maximum value to consumers.

European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC)


CEFIC represents around 27 000 large, medium and small chemical companies, which account for nearly a third of world chemical production. Its mission is to maintain and develop a prosperous chemical industry in Europe by promoting the development of workable, proportional, predictable and science-based legislation to ensure the continued competitiveness of the industry.

European Organization for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN)


EUROPEN brings together companies and national organisations with a common interest in packaging and the environment. It aims to achieve a fully accessible European market for packaging used for packaged products, whereby best use is made of the role, benefits and functions of packaging in society, such as protection of products and the environment and supplying information to and meeting the needs of consumers and customers.

Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)


GAIN is an alliance driven by the vision of a world without malnutrition. GAIN supports public–private partnerships to increase access to the missing nutrients in diets necessary for people, communities and economies to be stronger and healthier. It was created in 2002 at a Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Children.

International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products (AISE)


AISE is the official representative body of the soaps, detergents and maintenance products industry in Europe. Its membership totals 37 national associations in 42 countries, covering about 900 companies ranging from small and medium-sized enterprises to large multinationals active both in the consumer goods market and the industrial and institutional sectors. The AISE mission is to communicate effectively and objectively the values of its members to improve the economic and legal environment in which the industry operates.

International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF)


The IBLF is an international non-profit organisation that works to promote responsible business leadership and partnerships for social, economic and environmentally sustainable international development, particularly in new and emerging market economies. Supported by more than 70 of the world's leading companies, the IBLF operates in more than 50 countries around the world in areas such as tourism, health, enterprise development, transparency and corruption, and partnerships.

International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)


The International Chamber of Commerce is the voice of world business. Its work covers a broad spectrum, from arbitration and dispute resolution to making the case for open trade and the market economy. In particular, it seeks to forge internationally agreed rules and standards that companies adopt voluntarily and can be incorporated in binding contracts. As part of its work, the ICC provides business input to the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and many other intergovernmental bodies, both international and regional.

International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA)


IFBA is a group of food and non-alcoholic beverage companies with a global presence, who share a common goal of helping consumers in all nations to achieve balanced diets and healthy lifestyles. Since the launch of the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health in 2004, member companies have made substantial progress individually in addressing health and wellness concerns. In 2008, IFBA was formed to provide further impetus to the global food and beverage industry to work together in a number of key areas, recognised by the WHO and others as crucial to implementing the 2004 Global Strategy.

International Margarine Association of the Countries of Europe (IMACE)


IMACE represents the interests of 21 national margarine associations at European level. On behalf of its members, it aims to create a regulatory framework both at EU and international level that responds to the needs of margarine manufacturers by working with policy-makers, trade associations and other European business groups.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)


PAHO is an international public health agency with almost 110 years of experience in working to improve health and living standards in the Americas. It serves as the specialised organisation for health of the Inter-American System. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization and enjoys international recognition as part of the United Nations system.

Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN)


SUN is a UN-led multi-stakeholder initiative which aims to tackle continuing high levels of undernutrition and hunger in the world. The initiative is being led by David Nabarro, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Food Security and Nutrition. Its mission is to ensure high-quality and tailored support for efforts to scale up nutrition within participating countries – in line with both national and global targets.

Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI)


SAI Platform is a platform created by the food industry to actively support development of and to communicate worldwide about sustainable agriculture involving the different stakeholders of the food chain. SAI Platform supports agricultural practices and agricultural production systems that preserve the future availability of current resources and enhance their efficiency.

Tropical Forest Alliance 2020


The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 is a public–private partnership between the US government and the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF). The CGF is a large industry body made up of almost all the major retail and consumer goods companies in the world. The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 was announced at the Rio+20 summit. It aims to reduce and eventually eliminate the deforestation associated with the sourcing of commodity crops such as soy, palm oil, beef, pulp and paper.

United Nations Global Compact


The UN Global Compact is a leadership platform for the development, implementation and disclosure of responsible and sustainable corporate policies and practices. Endorsed by chief executives, it seeks to align business operations and strategies everywhere with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. With more than 8,500 signatories in over 135 countries, the UN Global Compact is the world’s largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative.

World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)


The WBCSD brings together 180 international companies in a shared commitment to sustainable development through economic growth, ecological balance and social progress. Its members are drawn from more than 30 countries and 20 major industrial sectors. Its mission is to provide business leadership as a catalyst for change towards sustainable development, and to support the business licence to operate, innovate and grow in a world increasingly shaped by sustainable development issues.

World Economic Forum (WEF)


WEF is an independent international organisation committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

World Environment Center (WEC)


Founded in 1974, WEC is an independent, global, non-profit, non-advocacy organisation that advances sustainable development through the business practices of member companies and in partnership with governments, multi-lateral organisations, non-governmental organisations, universities and other stakeholders.

World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)


The WFA is the voice of advertisers worldwide, representing 90% of global marketing communications expenditures through a unique global network that includes 50 national advertiser associations on five continents, as well as direct multinational corporate members. Through the network, the WFA represents more than 10 000 businesses operating in a broad spectrum of sectors at national, regional and global levels. The WFA has a dual mission: to defend and promote responsible commercial communications; and to facilitate a media environment, which stimulates maximum effectiveness of advertising spend.