Engaging with stakeholders
Average read time: 10 minutes
Our purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace – and we’re on a mission to prove that sustainable business is good business. But we can’t do this alone.
To make our purpose a reality and grow our business, we need to work closely with other stakeholders: our people, consumers, shareholders, governments and regulators, suppliers, customers, scientists, NGOs, communities and peer companies - often through trade associations. The explains our multi-stakeholder model and how it is designed to deliver value to all stakeholders.
Transparent and responsible
We have a strong commitment to doing business with integrity. In everything we do, we want to be transparent and honest with our stakeholders.
Maintaining our reputation and building trust demands the highest standards of behaviour. Our set out the standards we expect from all our employees – including ‘Engaging Externally’ which is one of the four Code themes, covering issues such as responsible marketing, political activities and donations, contact with government, regulators and NGOs. We also expect similar behaviour and principles from the people with whom we work.
How we engage with our stakeholders
As a global company with our brands available in around 190 countries, we interact with a huge range of stakeholders every single day. Below we provide a summary of how we engage with our most important stakeholder groups.
Unilever is made up of 127,000 talented people in more than 100 countries, who give their skills and time in offices, factories, R&D laboratories and tea estates. Keeping them engaged and informed is critical to our success.
There are many ways we give our employees a chance to share their views with us. Our annual UniVoice survey is a key tool to understand employee sentiment. Around 96,000 people took part in our UniVoice employee survey in 2022. We sustained very high engagement levels – 81% in offices and 84% in factories – which places us in the top quartile for employee engagement compared to industry benchmarks.
We hold bi-weekly ‘Your call’ sessions with our CEO and ULE members to give our workforce direct and regular access to our leadership team where our leadership answer questions on issues of concern. At a market level, we hold regular local leader-led virtual townhall meetings to engage with employees on locally relevant topics and issues.
To keep our employees informed and engaged on our Compass strategy, we hold virtual ‘Compass Live’ events, inviting key senior leaders across our business to engage with and inform our employees on our Compass strategy and our progress during the year.
Every day, 3.4 billion people use our products. Our research tells us that consumers are thinking more carefully about every day products – from what they put in, and on, their bodies; to what they use to clean their homes. They also continue to be increasingly discerning – looking for highly effective products, with ingredients that are good for them and good for the environment.
To grow our business and meet the constantly evolving needs of consumers, we need to get to know them. Our Consumer and Marketing Insights function is responsible for gathering consumer research to inform our innovation and marketing activities. For example, our in-house People Data Centres analyse data from social media, our Consumer Carelines and digital marketing to help us respond to consumer feedback. In 2022, we had over 4 million interactions through Consumer Careline calls, emails, letters, social media and webchats.
We value open and effective communication with our shareholders.We speak directly to shareholders through quarterly results broadcasts and conference presentations, as well as through regular meetings and calls about aspects of business performance and consumer trends.
Senior leaders and our Board speak directly to shareholders on a broad range of issues. For example, in 2022 we presented to investors on our Prestige business and our Health & Wellbeing brand strategies. In total we met more than 200 institutional investment institutions in 2022.
We work directly with governments, regulators and legislators, and through trade associations, to help develop laws and regulations that may affect our business. For example, we participate in policy discussions on global issues like climate change, as well as detailed subjects like product safety standards.
We do not support or fund political parties, candidates or any groups that promote party interests, which we reinforce in our . Our employees may offer support and contributions to political groups in a personal capacity.
We provide training to employees on three principles when recruiting from the public sector:
- We respect confidentiality obligations and restrictive covenants included in all contracts with previous employers.
- We agree appropriate and reasonable restrictions for people recruited directly from the public sector on a case-by-case basis. This may involve a ‘cooling off’ period where an employee will be restricted from contacting previous colleagues.
- We have a Code Policy on Avoiding Conflicts of Interests and adhere to additional principles when recruiting from the public sector.
We work with around 52,000 supplier partners in over 150 countries to source materials and provide critical services for us. We also work with our strategic suppliers through our – combining our expertise, to create new products, formats and ingredients.
Our customers range from large stores like hypermarkets, supermarkets and e-commerce platforms to smaller, out-of-home services and others.
We survey our large retail customers using the Advantage Group Survey to understand our strengths and where we need to improve. This year across the 30+ markets we surveyed, we continued to improve customer satisfaction. We’ve been told that customers value the quality of our consumer insights and that we’re improving in our service and supply. We were also rated leaders in sustainability.
We work directly with large retail chains to generate insights about who visits their stores. We use technology that creates shopper profiles. This allows us to target and personalise campaigns and develop shopper engagement programmes. This is guided by our , which helps ensure personal data is handled appropriately.
We also use an online platform to provide shopper insights and research for our smaller retailer customers. For example, in Pakistan we are working with a financial services platform to digitise payments between retailers and distributors.
In 2022, we continued to engage with small shop owners and micro-entrepreneurs who have undertaken our financial and inclusion training programmes.
We’re committed to investing in science and scientific research to improve our understanding of how our products can benefit public health and wellbeing, and how we can improve their environmental, societal and economic impact.
Our guides how we work with the scientific community. We follow accepted principles for scientific research, including robustness, objectivity of evidence and transparent engagement. As mandated by our Position on Science and Integrity, we disclose research funding where required, for example in scientific journals which require this level of disclosure.
Our engagement with NGOs is crucial to delivering our Compass sustainability commitments. Our engagement is often led by our global and market-based sustainability teams. We have established partnerships to build on-the-ground programmes to achieve our brands’ social missions. We drive scale through new business models, digital technologies and external financing.
Our leadership also engages with NGOs and other stakeholders through platforms like the World Economic Forum, UN Global Compact, World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Consumer Goods Forum. We also engage with NGOs on policy and advocacy issues.
We engage with and support livelihoods in many communities across the world. We create direct and indirect employment, for reinvestment in infrastructure and communities, and contribute through our corporate community investment activities.
Our Code of Business Principles sets out our commitment to the communities where we operate, and our local businesses drive our community engagement strategy.
Sometimes our business decisions or activities can affect local communities. In these cases, we are guided by a number of policies and standards to ensure communities are adequately protected. We run community outreach activities and communications to listen to any concerns or feedback.
We engage with peer companies – individually, in coalitions and through trade associations – to implement change. This includes working together to implement sustainable business strategies and drive policy agendas which contribute to systems change.
We’re a member of many trade associations around the world. Trade associations help us keep up to date with best practices and trends, as well as engage on policy topics.
Our Standard on Trade Association Memberships provides the internal governance and framework for our interactions with trade associations and other similar groups. This helps to ensure compliance with our .
All employees participating in association meetings must complete a competition law training module. We also appoint trade association co-ordinators in each country to ensure our Standard is followed.
We continue to review our trade association membership on an annual basis to ensure they reflect our values. We conduct a full, global trade association review at least every three years, with the most recent one taking place at the end of 2022.
We require that all trade associations which engage with policy makers on our behalf are aligned with Unilever’s public policy positions which can be found . When joining a trade association, we ask the organisation to confirm they are not working against Unilever’s positions. For pre-existing trade associations, Unilever seeks confirmation of trade association alignment as part of the annual renewal process.
Whilst we are respectful of others’ views and perspectives, in some circumstances a trade association may advocate for policy change that runs counter to Unilever’s interests or position. In these circumstances our preference should be to engage the trade association to determine a) why their position is at odds with ours and b) if their position can change.
If a trade association’s position cannot be brought into line with Unilever’s, then we reserve the right to withdraw our membership and make this information public.
In some instances, while there may be a clash of positions, it may be decided that Unilever’s interests are best served by staying within the trade association. If this happens then Unilever reserves the right to make a public statement clarifying the divergence in positions.
Trade association memberships
We are registered with the Transparency Register of the European Union. – this includes a list of trade associations with which we are affiliated. We comply with lobbying disclosure requirements, including the US Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). The LDA website provides a searchable database of lobbying disclosure filings.
In 2022 we spent €10.2m on 612 trade associations. Many of these trade associations work across a number of issues and topics, from nutrition to marketing, and from skills to environmental policy. However, issue areas contributing significantly to our spend were water, climate action and sustainable packaging, three key elements of our Compass strategy – Protect and regenerate nature, Climate action and Waste-free world. Below we publish a list of our principal/main trade associations by spend across our regions.
Consumer Goods Council of South Africa
Marketing Association of South Africa
Proudly South Africa
Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS)
Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA)
Euroglaces Ice Cream Association
European Brands Association (Association des Industries de Marque) (AIM)
European Centre of Public Affairs (ECPA)
European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC)
European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing (EPAA)
European Organization for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN)
Food and Drink Federation (UK)
Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP)
Unione Italiana Food
B20 (Business at the G20)
Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC)
Consumer Goods Forum (CGF)
Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)
Global Social Compliance Programme (GSCP)
International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products (AISE)
International Chamber of Commerce
International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA)
Organisation for International Investment (OFII)
Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN)
Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI)
Tropical Forest Alliance 2020
United Nations Global Compact
World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
World Economic Forum (WEF)
World Environment Center (WEC)
World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)
Household Cleaning Products Industry Association of Latin America (ALIADA)
Instituto Chileno de Administración Racional de Empresas (ICARE)
Sociedad de Fomento Fabril (SOFOFA)
North Africa, Middle East, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus
Advertising Business Group (UAE)
American Chamber of Commerce Egypt
The National Federation of Agribusiness – Fenagri (Morocco)
American Cleaning Institute
American Logistics Institute
Association of National Advertisers
Personal Care Products Council
Retail Industry Leaders Association
Sweetener Users Association (SUA)
Japan Cosmetic Industry Association
Japan Soap & Detergent Association
Quality Brands Protection Committee, China Association of Enterprises with Foreign Investment
Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI)
Indian Beauty & Hygiene Association (IBHA)
Mobile Marketing Association
South East Asia and Australasia
Australian Food and Grocery Council
Food Industry Asia
High Carbon Stock Approach (HCS)