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.