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Women and men chop yams into a sack in a field

Promoting safety for women

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Violence and discrimination can blight women’s lives and hold them back from playing a full part in the workplace, society and the economy. We’re taking action to improve women’s rights and safety in the communities in which we operate.

A smiling woman carrying a basket against an African sunset

Safe working cultures, stronger communities

We’re committed to respecting and promoting women’s rights, which includes the right to safety of women and girls.

1 in 3 Women have suffered physical or sexual violence in their lifetime

Harassment is one of the eight salient human rights issues we’ve identified for our business. Women have the right to be free from violence, harassment and discrimination and removing the barriers of an unsafe environment can help women fulfil their potential as individuals and as contributors to work, communities and economies. But the World Health Organization estimates that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

2% Of global GDP: the cost of violence against women

While it’s hard to put a price on the emotional and physical impact of violence on women’s health and wellbeing, research suggests the cost of violence against women each year is around US$1.5 trillion – that’s an estimated 2% of global GDP.

The importance of protecting women’s rights is recognised in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those on Gender Equality (SDG 5) and Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8).

We’re promoting safety for women in our workplaces and our extended supply chain. Our aim is to implement policies and processes that women trust, with an emphasis on addressing the harmful social and cultural norms and behaviours that can leave women at risk. This is a moral obligation, and we know it’s essential if our business is to maintain the trust and reputation we aspire to.

Zero tolerance of harassment

Combating violence and discrimination

As well as our wider work in addressing inequality and challenging harmful gender norms, we work closely with partners, including suppliers, to address women’s safety and combat discrimination. This work is underpinned by our:

  • policies and codes of conduct
  • Code of Business Principles compliance and performance management systems
  • grievance mechanisms, awareness-raising and training.

Combating domestic violence

Domestic violence can be physical or psychological, and it can affect anyone of any age, gender, race or sexual orientation. Alongside the physical and emotional toll, there is a significant economic impact. Loss of income, absenteeism and a fall in productivity financially impacts individuals and their families as well as society at large. Yet despite these human and societal costs, domestic violence often goes unreported due to fear and stigma.

We want to create a workplace culture where people know they can access support safely and securely, so that employees can seek help without stigma and where staff have access to basic training to know how to respond appropriately if they feel a colleague is potentially at risk. That’s why we introduced our Global Domestic Violence and Abuse Policy (PDF 115.08 KB) which details access to ‘safe leave’, flexible working conditions and support services.

To mark International Women’s Day in March 2021, we offered open access to our policy to other businesses and organisations. Our Chief Brand Officer and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Aline Santos, also hosted a LinkedIn live event with the founder of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke. The event saw the launch of #Unmute, a campaign urging action to end the silence on domestic violence.

A framework for women’s safety

As a result of work in Assam and experience in Kenya, UN Women, with our support, created A Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces (PDF 6.53 MB). This was published in December 2018 and is being made available to the global tea industry and other value chains, supported by a practical Guide on implementation. Looking ahead, the palm oil industry will be our next focus for rolling out the Framework.

A consortia of private and public actors has come together to promote take-up of the Framework through the Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund.

The Fund is one of the latest steps we’ve taken to promote change through policies, programmes and advocacy for industry-wide action.

Working in Assam

Women make up half of Assam’s 6 million-strong tea workforce and perform the crucial, labour-intensive task of plucking tea leaves. But they are too often subjected to violence and further denied their rights by inadequate, or non-existent, grievance mechanisms and safe spaces. At the same time, men dominate the better-paid clerical and managerial positions in the plantations, with promotional opportunities denied to women. We set up a partnership to address this violence.

Working with unions

We also work with partners to prevent sexual harassment in our operations. As part of our joint working group on diversity, Unilever, the IUF union and IndustriALL made a commitment to tackle sexual harassment. One of the outcomes of this working group was a booklet called No Place for Sexual Harassment at Unilever (PDF 959.23 KB), produced by the IUF. This is designed to help IUF members understand the roles of workers, unions and management in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. In tandem, we ran a range of initiatives across our sites to promote greater awareness and enhance training.

Cover of our Human Rights Report 2021

Our Human Rights Report 2021 (PDF 2.9 MB)

Our latest Report explains how we’ve used our Salient Issues Framework to tackle forced labour and harassment, including how we’re working with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm to support the women’s safety movement in the palm supply chain and with Bonsucro and Resonance to look at our sugar supply chain.

Our Human Rights Report 2020 (PDF 7.3 MB) also summarises the work we’ve done to promote safety for women – including our work with Care International to understand safety in our distribution models.

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