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Our salient human rights issues

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Identifying our salient human rights issues has helped us prioritise how we address human rights impacts across our operations and extended supply chain.

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What do we mean by 'salient human rights issues'?

How does a business like ours work out where it should focus its efforts to have a positive impact – and prevent the most negative impacts – when it comes to human rights?

That's the rationale behind identifying our salient human rights issues, defined by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) as 'the human rights that are at risk of the most severe negative impacts through a company’s activities or business relationships'.

When we endorsed the UNGPs, we committed to identifying our salient human rights issues. After an extensive process involving wide-ranging consultation within and beyond our business, we've identified eight salient issues: discrimination; fair wages; forced labour; freedom of association; harassment; health & safety; land rights; and working hours.

Unilever’s eight salient issues

And when we became the first company of our size to publish a stand-alone human rights report in line with the UNGPs reporting framework in 2015, we used our salient issues to report against. We’ve carried on using it, setting out each issue and its challenges in our Human Rights Report 2020 (PDF 7.1 MB), which was complemented by more granular insights through our Human Rights Report 2020 Supplier Audit Update (PDF 2.2 MB).

Keeping our salient issues under review

Knowing what our salient issues are has been vital to prioritising our work. But it’s important to stress two things.

The first is that the list is not exhaustive. We know that there are other human rights issues in our value chain – and we're committed to addressing human rights abuses of all kinds.

The second is that while the phrase 'salient issues' may sound a little academic or abstract, we know that the impact of human rights abuses is anything but. These issues affect real people, in real ways: the impacts, both positive and negative, can be life-changing.

With both things in mind, we know we need to keep our salient issues under review so we're focused on the things that matter most. Are there any new, emerging issues we need to consider – such as those relating to technology or new ways of working? And if so, are these relevant globally? Or do we need to take a more local approach?

Global and regional salient issues

We've followed up on the initial work we did to identify our salient human rights issues (described in our first Human Rights Report in 2015) with a range of work, including regional stakeholder consultations to map out relevance and impact at the regional level.

While we found that the main issues remained the same at a global level, in future we’ll also focus on salient human rights issues that we’ve found are most relevant in each region.

Read our first Human Rights Report (PDF 4.5 MB)
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Our Salient Issues Framework

In 2021, we created a structured approach to address our salient issues through our Salient Issues Framework. Its purpose is to:

  • ensure our approach to each salient issue follows a similar model
  • provide a global framework for each issue, from which local approaches can be adapted
  • enable us to address issues in a consistent manner with consolidated reporting
  • define clearer articulation and co-ordination across issues and areas of intervention
  • more easily prioritise actions and resources
  • share clear impact assessment metrics and KPIs internally and clearly measure/report on progress.

Our four-part Framework

We use the four key elements of our Framework to guide us in tackling our salient issues.

  • Description and impact

    The description of the issue, which includes which stakeholders are impacted and how, how many people the issue affects and where they are, and the main root causes of the issue.

  • Theory of change

    Our theory of change is based on this clear understanding of the problem we are trying to address, and enables us to set out our vision of the outcome we want to deliver.

  • Interventions

    We then define areas of intervention – strategic priorities which will achieve the vision of the theory of change, with clear segmentation on where we will have the biggest impact on people.

  • Action plans

    Our action plans outline what we need to do to achieve these priorities, how we will do this, and the internal and external stakeholders with whom we need to work to achieve our vision.

Our Human Rights Progress Report 2021 describes how we’ve put the framework into action as we tackle three of our salient issues – forced labour, harassment and fair wages.

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