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Unilever's Commitment to Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls upon "every individual and every organ of society" to promote respect for human rights.

The foundation of international human rights law is the United Nations' 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is not legally binding but is an aspirational set of standards and principles. Securing and delivering human rights is ultimately the responsibility of government, but businesses can play their part too by upholding and promoting human rights within their spheres of influence.

We seek to do this in three ways: through our own operations, in our relationships with our suppliers, and by working through external initiatives, such as the United Nations Global Compact.

Our Code of Business Principles

Our Code of Business Principles embodies our commitment to human rights. It confirms that "We conduct our operations with honesty, integrity and openness, and with respect for the human rights and interests of our employees".

The section of our Code dealing with employees takes into account the key International Labour Organisation labour standards: it clearly states our opposition to forced and child labour and sets out our respect for employees' right to freedom of association.

In 2006 we surveyed our 35 largest businesses which showed that our youngest employees, aged 15, are in Germany, Switzerland and the US, compliant with local legislation. In all these countries, wages paid by Unilever exceed the minimum wage established by the relevant national authority. 40% of our eligible employees are members of trade unions.

Human rights & our business partners

Our human rights commitment is also reflected in the way we work with our business partners and suppliers. Our Business Partner Code makes clear the standards to which we expect our business partners to adhere. It contains 10 principles covering business integrity and responsibilities relating to employees, consumers and the environment.

Living out our commitments

These commitments are of no practical use unless they are part of an active process of compliance, monitoring and reporting. The board of Unilever is responsible for this process and day-to-day responsibility lies with senior management around the world. As part of our worldwide positive assurance process, each year our company chairmen give written assurance that their business is in compliance with our Code of Business Principles.

Breaches of the Code are reported to the Joint Secretaries of Unilever. We expect and encourage employees to bring to our attention any breach of the Code. All our employees can access our 'ethics hotline' - a 24-hour toll-free number through which they can raise any concerns in complete confidence and, if they so wish, on an anonymous basis.

We also use a positive assurance process with our suppliers. In 2004 we began to communicate our Business Partner Code to all our current suppliers of ‘production items' (ie the raw materials and packaging we use to make our products) and to gain their assurance that they adhere to its principles.

Promoting human rights

We seek to work with other companies, labour and civil society organisations on human rights issues. For example, the United Nations Global Compact principles set out commitments for business in relation to human rights and labour standards. As a founding signatory to the Compact, we are committed to upholding these principles.

See Original Unilever Source.

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