The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan for

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Sustainable sourcing

Sustainable sourcing

Sustainable sourcing is vital to feeding the world’s people while respecting the planet’s resources – and essential to the responsible growth of our business.

People, planet and prosperity: why we all need sustainable agriculture to flourish

How will the world rise to the challenge of feeding over 9 billion people without depleting the planet’s natural resources? How will we achieve our ambitions to grow Unilever responsibly, with a supply chain that both retains consumers’ trust and creates new opportunities for positive social impacts and business growth?

We believe a big part of the answer to both questions can be found in the widespread adoption of sustainable agriculture – which is why we’re committed to sourcing our agricultural raw materials sustainably.

Sustainable farming methods have the potential to increase farmers’ yields considerably, mitigate the effects of climate change, and provide farmers, their families and their surrounding communities with opportunities to build more prosperous societies – so they can contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The business benefits are clear. Sourcing sustainably helps secure our supplies, and reduces risk and volatility in our raw material supply chains. It opens up opportunities for innovation: by focusing on people’s sustainable living needs and consumer preference, we build stronger brands. Sustainable farming methods can also improve the quality of our products, such as our sauces, soups, dressings and ice creams.

Our strategy

Our products are used by 2.5 billion people a day – that’s around a third of the people on the planet. We need around 7 million tonnes of agricultural raw materials to make our products – and millions of people play an important role in providing them. Making sure that these agricultural raw materials are sustainably produced is crucial to Unilever’s purpose of making sustainable living commonplace.

Palm oil farmer

The future of growth: facing the challenges & finding opportunities

Global supply chains are complex, and the production of food and other raw materials is linked to many issues, including deforestation, water scarcity and labour rights. But by using our scale, working with partners and harnessing advocacy, we believe we can help drive transformational change in these global systems while improving the sustainability of our own agricultural raw materials.

At the same time, by connecting us to millions of people in farming communities, our agricultural supply chain will be central to achieving the social ambitions of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan – for example, by creating inclusive supply chains for the smallholder farmers who produce around 80% of the food consumed in emerging markets from Southern Asia to sub-Saharan Africa.

This process increases the visibility we have of our supply chain, helping us address risks and find opportunities to innovate. It also helps us maintain the trust of consumers and other stakeholders – trust that’s essential to a progressive foods company that believes in nutritious food, grown sustainably.

How we’re working towards sourcing our agricultural raw materials sustainably

Our approach has five main strands:

  • sustainably sourcing to the highest standards from our network of suppliers
  • driving change through continuous improvement policies with suppliers
  • raising awareness of sustainable sourcing among our consumers
  • playing a leading role in the transformation of agricultural sectors relevant to our business, particularly sustainable tea and palm oil
  • protecting biodiversity.

All involve working in partnership with others towards transforming global food systems. This includes collaborating with suppliers, farmers, NGOs, and local government, as well as working with other businesses in the sector. The work we are doing with smallholder farmers to achieve positive social impacts alongside sustainable agriculture is also described in Enhancing Livelihoods.

Programmes that drive change

Since the early 1990s, we have pioneered a number of programmes and initiatives designed to drive the highest standards of sustainable sourcing within our operations and supply chain, developing them alongside wider industry and multi-stakeholder initiatives. These programmes and policies, notably our Sustainable Agriculture Programme, our Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code (PDF | 2MB) (SAC) and our Responsible Sourcing Policy (PDF | 9MB) (RSP), are at the heart of our approach.

When we launched our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in 2010, we set a number of ambitious goals across our business, including to source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably. Spurred on by those goals, we made rapid early progress through these programmes.

Evolving our approach

In 2016, we began a full review of our sustainable sourcing strategy to ensure we continue to evolve our approach and maximise our impact. We asked ourselves tough questions on how our supply chain can deliver the volumes of sustainable crops we need. And on how we can raise our standards – to manage risk as well as to enhance our positive social and environmental impact as we grow our business. We looked, too, at changing market dynamics and how sustainable sourcing is evolving across sectors.

This in-depth review highlighted the need for us to further strengthen our overall sustainable sourcing programme, and in particular to update our Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC). Working together with our suppliers, we have made strong progress. However there is now a need for us to adapt our approach based on learnings over the last six years to further reduce risk, increase trust in our supply chain and create industry-wide change.

So in 2018 we are piloting certification against our Sustainable Agriculture Code 2017 (PDF | 2MB) at scale. The updated Code includes a stronger emphasis on social issues across five key areas (no deforestation; human rights, including Free, Prior and Informed Consent; legal compliance; migrant labour; and grievance processes for workers).

Our review also confirmed that while our strategic direction is the right one for our business, society and the environment, we are unable to reach our target by 2020 despite the considerable advances we’ve made. This is partly because of our lack of scale to achieve sufficient change across all crops. And partly because the length and complexity of some supply chains make it very difficult to develop a line of sight on the farmers at the very beginning of that supply chain, and thus to reassure ourselves that their practices are sustainable.

So we now need to concentrate our efforts where we can drive the greatest impact. This has led us to pinpoint a set of priority crops and commodities, which not only are crucial to our brands but are also where we can have most impact within their agricultural sectors. These include palm oil, paper and board, soy, sugar, tea, dairy, rapeseed, cereals, vegetables, cocoa, herbal infusions and vanilla.

We remain committed to sourcing our agricultural raw materials sustainably but recognise that this must be a longer-term ambition. We’re also continuing to drive transformational change and enhance livelihoods across the industry.

Our commitment

We are committed to sourcing 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020.

Progress to date

56% of our agricultural raw materials were sustainably sourced by end 2017 (2016: 51%). This includes over 51% as physical sustainable sources (2016: 48%) and nearly 5% in the form of certificates, used mainly in soy and sugar (2016: 3%).

While our strategic review has confirmed that we will not meet our target of 100% sustainable sourcing by 2020, we will place more emphasis on social issues as we pilot our strengthened Sustainable Agriculture Code 2017 at scale in 2018. In tandem, from 2018 onwards we will focus our efforts on a number of priority crops and commodities where we can drive most impact within their agricultural sectors.

We will continue to drive transformational change and enhance livelihoods across the industry. For example, by repurposing the money we previously spent on GreenPalm certificates for palm oil, in 2017 we became the first corporate investor in the &Green Fund, which aims to de-risk private investment into large-scale, deforestation-free agricultural production and was set up in partnership with the Norwegian government and IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative.

See Targets & performance for more detail.

Seeing the benefits of ambition

We set ourselves an ambitious target for a reason: to create a new mindset and spur the innovation that can catalyse a step change in delivery, not only in our own business but across industries too.

We’re seeing the benefits of these changes, and of the lessons we’ve learnt about achieving transformation in a system as complex as food. For example, we knew it was the right thing to do for our business when we set out to source all our tea sustainably in 2007, but we also knew there were many social and environmental issues to tackle. They had to be addressed through a combination of action on the ground with partners to develop sustainable practices, and governments, industry and many other organisations to drive up standards.

Today, 81% of our tea is sustainably sourced, much of it from Kenya where 580,000 farmers working with the Kenya Tea Development Agency have achieved Rainforest Alliance certification for their farms. And Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM tea now accounts for around a fifth of the world’s tea production.

Future challenges

While progress has been made, we’ve always recognised that the changes needed to transform global food systems can only be effected through collective action. We take an active role in industry collaborations such as Field to Market and the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, and we’re working closely with others to develop industry standards of assurance and certification, particularly regarding labour rights and working conditions.

Nonetheless, we know that standards and certification alone do not in themselves guarantee solutions. To make sustainable living commonplace, we need to continue communicating the value of sustainable sourcing to consumers, which is already a central aim of many of our leading Food and Refreshment brands, see Grown for good. In doing so, we will influence their buying habits towards sustainably sourced products and drive growth for our business.

For more see Our approach to sustainable sourcing.

Independently assured by PwC


Expand for more on Sustainable sourcing
Sustainable sourcing
Our commitment

By 2020 we will source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably: 10% by 2010; 30% by 2012; 50% by 2015; 100% by 2020.

Our performance

56% of our agricultural raw materials were sustainably sourced by end 2017 (2016: 51%). This includes over 51% as physical sustainable sources (2016: 48%) and nearly 5% in the form of certificates used mainly in soy and sugar (2016: 3%).

Our perspective

Many of our raw materials come from farms and plantations. The decisions we make on who we source from, and how we work with them, can have profound implications on global natural resources and climate change. They also have a wider social impact on human development, affecting the livelihoods of many.

By sourcing sustainably, we can protect scarce resources. We want to eliminate deforestation and ensure that land use and social and community issues are managed responsibly. For our business, sustainable sourcing means we ensure security of supply while managing our environmental footprint and reducing market volatility.

Over 2016–2017 we undertook an in-depth review of our sustainable sourcing strategy to ensure we continue to evolve our approach and maximise our impact. While we have made good progress, the review highlighted the need for us to further strengthen our overall sustainable sourcing programme, and in particular to update our Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC).

So in 2018 we are piloting our Sustainable Agriculture Code 2017 at scale. The updated Code includes a stronger emphasis on social issues across five key areas (no deforestation; human rights, including Free, Prior and Informed Consent; legal compliance; migrant labour; and grievance processes for workers).

Our review also confirmed that while our strategic direction is the right one for our business, society and the environment, we are unable to reach our target by 2020 despite the considerable advances we’ve made. This is partly because of our lack of scale to achieve sufficient change across all crops. And partly because the length and complexity of some supply chains make it very difficult to develop a line of sight on the farmers at the very beginning of that supply chain, and thus to reassure ourselves that their practices are sustainable.

So we now need to concentrate our efforts where we can drive the greatest impact. This has led us to pinpoint a set of priority crops and commodities, which are not only crucial to our brands, but also where we can have most impact within their agricultural sectors. These include palm oil, paper and board, soy, sugar, tea, dairy, rapeseed, cereals, vegetables, cocoa, herbal infusions and vanilla.

See Our strategy above for further detail.


  • Achieved 3

  • On-Plan 10

  • Off-Plan 1

  • %

    Of target achieved 3

Key to our performance
  • Achieved

    This is the number of targets we have achieved

  • On-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are on track to achieve

  • Off-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are currently not on track

  • %

    Of target achieved

    This is the percentage of the target we are on track to achieve

Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Sustainable palm oil

We will purchase all palm oil from physically certified sustainable sources by 2019.

56%†* of palm oil from physically certified sources in 2017, achieved through a combination of segregated and mass balance supply.


Our Perspective

Palm oil is one of our priority raw materials. In 2016 we refreshed our Sustainable Palm Oil Sourcing Policy and brought forward our target for purchasing 100% physically certified palm oil from 2020 to 2019. In 2017 we reached 56% from physically certified sources for our core volumes* (from RSPO Mass Balance, RSPO Segregated or an equivalent standard that is independently verified by a third party).

In 2016 we decided to stop buying GreenPalm certificates. We aim to repurpose $50 million over five years that would have been spent on GreenPalm certificates and invest it in jurisdictional partnerships – to increase the availability of certified sustainable palm oil and scale up direct sourcing from smallholder farmers. In 2017 we committed to invest up to $25 million in the &Green Fund, which aims to de-risk private investment into large-scale, deforestation-free agricultural production and was set up in partnership with the Norwegian Government and IDH.

Independently assured by PwC

* From 2017 we report only core volumes of palm oil. Core volumes exclude derivatives of palm fatty acid distillates (which are by-products of the refining process), tail ingredients and materials processed by third-party manufacturers.

Transforming the palm oil industry

Sustainable paper and board

We will source 75% of the paper and board for our packaging from certified sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by 2015. We will reach 100% by 2020.

98% of our paper and board came from certified sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by end 2017.


Our Perspective

Paper and board are one of our priority raw materials and we reached 98% sustainably sourced in 2017.

Of this, 79% was received with a third-party certification claim and full chain of custody to demonstrate that it came from sustainably managed forests or recycled material. The remaining 19% came from recycled material.

There are challenges for our suppliers in providing verifiable evidence to support the make-up of uncertified products in our recycled material. So in 2016 we set a new ambition to accelerate the volume of certified recycled products we purchase by 2019 and to source the recycled fibre from suppliers with third-party certification.

Asking our suppliers to certify recycled materials offers reassurance for our business and equally importantly, helps build the market for certified recycled materials.

Sustainable paper & board sourcing

Sustainable soy

We will source sustainably all soy beans by 2014 and all soy oils by 2020.

100% soy beans purchased from sustainable sources by end 2014.

72% soy oil covered from sustainable sources by end 2017.


Our Perspective

We achieved our target to source 100% of our soy beans sustainably by 2014 (through the physical purchase of RTRS certified beans).

Soy is one of our priority crops and in 2017, 72% of our soy oil came from sustainable sources. This includes Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) certified soy oil, RTRS certificates redeemed in 2017 and self-verified soy oil in the US.

In Iowa in the US, we're working with soy farmers and soy oil suppliers to increase the use of cover crops as a way of protecting their soil. From just 26 farmers in 2015, the pilot project grew to around 170 farmers cropping more than 26,000 acres in 2017.

Sustainable soy, rapeseed & sunflower oils

Sustainable tea

  • By 2015 we aim to have the tea in all Lipton tea bags sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ estates.

Since 2015, 100% of the tea in our Lipton tea bag blends has come from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ sources.


  • By 2020, 100% of Unilever’s tea, including loose tea, will be sustainably sourced.

Overall, 81% of the tea purchased for all our brands was sourced from sustainable sources in 2017: 71% was Rainforest Alliance Certified™ and 10% was trustea Verified.


Our Perspective

Tea is one of our priority crops and we buy around 10% of the world’s black tea. In 2007 we were the first major tea company to commit to sustainably sourcing tea on a large scale. In 2015, we met our target for 100% of the tea in Lipton’s tea bag blends to come from sustainable sources. By 2017, 81% of all our tea came from certified sustainable sources.

In 2017 we worked on around 40 major programmes in our tea supply chain, with objectives such as increasing tea workers' and smallholders' incomes, improving health, empowering women, improving sanitation, addressing climate change and supporting biodiversity - with individual programmes often tackling multiple issues. For example, through field trials we commissioned from the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International, over 2015–2017 we’ve demonstrated that it’s possible to avoid using pesticides in Indian tea gardens by taking an ecological approach to pest management.

Sustainable tea - leading the industry

Sustainable fruit and vegetables

  • We will purchase 100% of our fruit from sustainable sources by 2015.
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67% of fruit purchased sustainably by end 2015; 86% by end 2017.


  • We will purchase 50% of our top 13 vegetables and herbs from sustainable sources by 2012 and 100% by 2015. This accounts for over 80% of our global vegetable and herb volume.
92

92% of our top 13 vegetables and herbs purchased from sustainable sources by end 2015, up from 59% in 2012. We reached 98% in 2017.


Our Perspective

Fruit and vegetables is a complex portfolio of materials with a very large and diverse supply base, making it difficult to achieve our 100% target across the entire portfolio by 2015. By 2017, 86% of our fruit was sustainably sourced, but it will not be one of our priority crops from 2018 onwards.

While vegetables are one of our priority crops, getting from 98% to 100% by 2020 remains a challenge as for some of the vegetables we buy, the volumes are either small (making it hard to influence the market for sustainable supplies) or are technically difficult to convert to sustainable practices.

Sustainable fruit & vegetables

Sustainable cocoa

We will source cocoa sustainably for our Magnum ice cream by 2015. All other cocoa will be sourced sustainably by 2020.

98% of cocoa for Magnum sustainably sourced through Rainforest Alliance certification by end 2015; 98% by 2017.

Overall, 70% of all cocoa sourced sustainably.


Our Perspective

Magnum is our biggest ice cream brand and is on sale in 52 countries, with all but three of them now sourcing Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa. The challenge remains in sourcing Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa for Brazil, Venezuela and Israel where the availability of certified beans is limited. As cocoa is one of our priority crops, we are looking for alternative solutions to complete the final conversion.

We remain on track towards our 2020 target of sourcing all our cocoa sustainably, increasing from 64% in 2016 to 70% in 2017.

Sustainable cocoa & sugar

Sustainable sugar

We will source all sugar sustainably by 2020.

67% of sugar sustainably sourced by end 2017.


Our Perspective

We verify sugar beet primarily against our Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) and mainly use Bonsucro certification for sugar cane. In 2017 we bought self-assessed and physical, certified sugar (beet and cane, 37%) and covered the rest of our sugar requirements with Bonsucro credits. Sugar is one of our priority crops.

In Europe, in 2016 our supplier Nordzucker became one of the first to complete the Farm Sustainability Assessment developed by the SAI Platform and agreed by many businesses as a common code for the industry. While Nordzucker’s sugar already met our SAC standards, we welcome the transition to SAI as a step towards mainstreaming sustainability.

On cane sugar, we pursued our dual strategy of creating more physical capacity on the ground while continuing to apply credits. Through the Bonsucro platform, a not for-profit, multi-stakeholder organisation promoting sustainable sugar cane, we are working in the Americas and Asia to apply this approach.

Sustainable cocoa & sugar

Sustainable sunflower oil

We will source all sunflower oil sustainably by 2020.

45% of sunflower oil sustainably sourced by end 2017.


Our Perspective

In recent years, we’ve made good progress in sustainably sourcing our sunflower oil, increasing our volume to 53% in 2016 by rolling out our programme with our partners Cargill and ADM, and buying our first volumes of oil from sunflowers grown in Turkey and Argentina using our Sustainable Agriculture Code.

However, as a result of the in-depth review of sustainable sourcing that we began in 2016, we have decided to concentrate our efforts where we can drive the greatest impact. This means we will focus on a set of priority crops and commodities, which are not only crucial to our brands, but also where we can have most impact within their agricultural sectors. So from 2018 onwards sunflower oil will no longer be one of our priority crops but we will continue to prioritise the sustainable sourcing of rapeseed, soy and palm oil.

Sustainable soy, rapeseed & sunflower oils

Sustainable rapeseed oil

We will source all rapeseed oil sustainably by 2020.

84% of rapeseed oil sustainably sourced by end 2017.


Our Perspective

Rapeseed oil is one of our priority crops and we continue to make steady progress. In 2017, the vast majority of our European rapeseed volumes were sourced sustainably. This includes the oil for our German Rama spreads, and Hellmann’s mayonnaise in the UK. It also covers all our Flora range in the UK. The majority of these volumes are being sourced locally from growers located near our manufacturing plants.

We continue to work with our suppliers and other partners, including on a joint approach with our partner Bunge in Canada, where more than 214 farmers were signed up to our Sustainable Agriculture Code programme in 2017. In close co-operation with our farm advisers, Control Union, these farmers have transitioned their practices to our Sustainable Agriculture Code’s requirements well ahead of schedule.

Sustainable soy, rapeseed & sunflower oils

Sustainable dairy

We will source all dairy produce sustainably by 2020.

74% of dairy produce sustainably sourced by end 2017.


Our Perspective

Dairy is one of our priority crops and we continued to make good progress, increasing our sustainable supply to 74% in 2017.

Suppliers and farmers have achieved sustainable dairy status in countries as far apart as the US, Uruguay, Europe and New Zealand.

In Turkey we are trialling ways of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with milk – including techniques that aim to improve the comfort, health and longevity of cows.

We also continued our efforts to convert industry sectors to a sustainable sourcing standard, building on our success in Australia and Ireland – where since 2013 and 2015 respectively, the dairy sector has had programmes that are equivalent to our Sustainable Agriculture Code.

Sustainable dairy

Fairtrade Ben & Jerry's

All flavours of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will be Fairtrade certified by 2013.

77

77% of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavours achieved Fairtrade certification in 2013. We reached 100% in 2014.


Our Perspective

Ben & Jerry’s ice creams were the first to use Fairtrade (FT) ingredients in 2005. By the end of 2011 in Europe, we achieved Fairtrade certification for all our products produced and distributed in Europe.

In 2012, due to issues around quality and availability, we found we could not source all the FT-certified ingredients we needed for a global conversion. So we revised our target from our previous ‘all ingredients’ to ‘all flavours’ certified.

We identified that by using FT ingredients for the five major commodities in all our base mixes and for our chunks and swirls, and following proper Fairtrade derogation procedures, all our ice cream flavours would qualify for Fairtrade certification by 2013. We reached 77% in 2013.

In 2013 we also decided to source only non-GMO ingredients by seed source. As this added complexity to our conversion programmes, we delayed our plans, achieving FT-certification for all our flavours in 2014.

Ben and Jerry’s

Cage-free eggs

We aim to move to 100% cage-free eggs for all our products,* including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé mayonnaises.

* Where allowed by local legislation.

61% of eggs were cage-free by end 2017.


Our Perspective

Our research shows that consumers prefer products made with cage-free eggs. We use eggs in mayonnaises, dressings, sauces and ice cream. However, the conditions in which eggs are produced vary widely around the world. We take animal welfare seriously as a social and ethical concern and were one of the first global companies to work with egg suppliers to start sourcing cage-free eggs.

In Western Europe, Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé have been 100% cage-free since 2009, and with the conversion of our supply chain in Eastern Europe, all our European products were able to use cage-free eggs by 2014.

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has used only cage-free eggs in Europe since 2004; by the end of 2011, 99% of all eggs used in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream mix worldwide were cage-free too.

In 2018 we announced our commitment to convert all our egg supplies to cage-free by 2025.

Farm animal welfare

Sustainable sourcing of office materials

By 2013 we will source all paper-based office materials for our top 21 countries from either certified sustainable forests or recycled sources.

100% of paper-based materials from certified sustainable forests or recycled sources by end 2013.


Our Perspective

Our commitment covers office paper products such as printer paper, note books and envelopes. By using paper from sustainable or recycled sources, we avoid using wood from non-sustainable sources, helping our aim to end deforestation.

We achieved our target in 2013, when 100% of our paper-based office materials for our top 21 countries came from either certified, sustainable forests or recycled sources. All our suppliers sign a certificate of compliance, and we monitor compliance via quarterly reporting. Where necessary, we have changed from non-sustainable products to sustainable products.

We then extended our ambition from the top 21 countries to all other countries in Europe and Latin America, with the aim of reaching 100% compliance by the end of 2015, which we achieved.

While we no longer report on this target as we achieved it in 2013, we continue to drive greater use of sustainable paper across our business.

Cutting office impacts
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