When Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan was created ten years ago, “no one knew about sustainable sourcing or sustainability,” says Andrea Granier, Sustainability Procurement Manager. Few considered its non-practice would cause resources to degrade or the ability for people to eat food off that land to disappear.

“Now most of our suppliers are running their own sustainability agendas independently from Unilever. That’s the best achievement we can have,” he adds.

Setting the bar for ourselves and our suppliers

From the start it was an ambitious program. “The goal of creating our Sustainable Agricultural Code was to set a bar that needs to be cleared in order for a product to enter the Unilever supply chain,” says Giulia Stellari, Sustainability Sourcing Director.

“We had the guts to set targets we knew were going to be hard to meet,” adds Sustainability Sourcing Development Director Jan Kees Vis.

It has seen us launch dozens of initiatives with over 40 partners to promote sustainable sourcing, partnering with NGOs to help formulate targets around biodiversity and make hard choices to select suppliers that were committed to taking the journey with us.

And because sustainable sourcing can only be achieved where human rights are respected, we have been absolutely committed to embedding human rights in all we do right across the value chain.

Partnering with bodies such as the UN to drive social impact on issues such as safety for women and being transparent about the issues and challenges we face through the publishing of our human rights reports.

Women harvesting tea leaves on a tea plantation

A progressive journey

Our work in responsible sourcing is rightly a work in progress. We continue to work with farmers, suppliers, governments and civil society to promote sustainable agriculture and forestry systems beyond the boundaries of our own business needs.

We continue to focus our efforts where we can have the highest impact. “Our 100% ambition still remains, and our predominant focus is on those materials where we have ‘line of sight to farm’, as we call it, and greatest buying power,” says Petronella Meekers, Unilever’s Global Head of Sustainable Sourcing. “This is where we feel we can most influence producers to adopt sustainable practices.”

More remains to be done. “We want greater assurances that the impacts we wish to see, such as no deforestation, regenerative practices and improved yields for smallholders, are being driven forward,” she says.

This film shares the story of our progress and sustainable sourcing initiatives so far, told by the people who have helped shape and drive the program.

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