Unilever focuses on Sustainable Sourcing

The agriculture sector is vital – to the world, and to Unilever’s business. The world needs to double food production by 2050 to help feed a population that could exceed 9 billion people – and many of the raw materials come from farms or forests. If we are to feed over 9 billion people without depleting the planet’s natural resources, sustainable agriculture is the way forward. Sustainable farming methods have the potential to increase yields considerably, mitigate the effects of climate change and provide economic and social benefits to farmers, their families, and the surrounding communities.

Unilever believe sustainable agriculture will play a vital role in achieving the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development, particularly those on eradicating hunger and poverty. Their work on sourcing impacts a number of the other Global Goals, such as those on quality education (Goal 4); decent work and economic growth (8); climate action (13); life on land (15); and partnership for the goals (17). They are driving transformational change by creating inclusive supply chains for smallholder farmers, who produce around 80% of the food consumed in emerging markets from Southern Asia to sub-Saharan Africa.

Sourcing sustainably helps Unilever in securing  supplies, and also reduces risk and volatility in raw material supply chains. It also opens up opportunities for innovation: by focusing on people’s sustainable living needs and consumer preference, they build stronger brands. Sustainable farming methods can also improve the quality of products, such as sauces, soups, dressings or ice creams. They are committed to sourcing 100% of agricultural raw materials sustainably.

Unilever aims to ensure all the major commodities on which they depend – notably palm oil, soy, paper and board, and tea – are produced sustainably for mainstream consumer markets.

They are trying to create a systemic change by:

  • sustainably sourcing to the highest standards from a network of suppliers
  • driving change through continuous improvement policies with suppliers
  • raising awareness of sustainable sourcing amongst consumers
  • playing a leading role in the transformation of agriculture sectors relevant to business
  • developing a sustainable tea and palm oil industry
  • protecting biodiversity.
Progress to date

51% of their agricultural raw materials were sustainably sourced by end 2016 (2015: 60%). This includes 48% as physical sustainable sources (2015: 39%) and 3% in the form of certificates used mainly in soy and sugar (2015: 3%).

2016, they stopped buying GreenPalm certificates (2015: 18%).

In 2016 they refreshed Palm Oil Policy and brought forward the target for purchasing 100% physically certified palm oil from 2020 to 2019. They also stopped buying GreenPalm certificates, which accounted for 18% of sustainably sourced agricultural raw materials in 2015. This has created a temporary dip in their performance from 60% in 2015 to 51% in 2016. Had Unilever continued to buy GreenPalm certificates at the same level our overall sustainable sourcing performance in 2016 would have been 66%. Instead, they have increased purchasing of sustainable physical agricultural raw materials from 39% in 2015 to 48% in 2016 whilst maintaining the same proportion of certificates purchased for soy and sugar (3% in 2015 and 2016).