In March 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed the Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP) website, www.vtjp.org. The group was calling for a boycott of Ben & Jerry's over its selling of ice cream within illegal Israeli settlements. VTJP stated 'in violation of their social mission, their Israeli franchise sells ice cream in illegal, Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, transported on Jewish-only roads, on trucks with Jewish-only license plates, passing easily through military checkpoints that bedevil others.'

Ethical Consumer also saw that this Boycott Call had been featured on the BDS website:

VTJP stated that since 2013 thousands of individuals and nearly 250 organizations in 20 countries had called on Ben & Jerry’s to stop sales to Israeli illegal settlements and to publicly oppose Israel’s occupation and settlements. The company had refused to do so.

Both Ben & Jerry’s and its owner Unilever therefore lost half a mark under Boycott Call.

Reference:

VTJP Calls for a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s (18 June 2015)

In March 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed Unilever's website for the company's statement on the use of genetically modified ingredients.

The following statement was found:

"We support responsible use of science and technology in agriculture as it may help meet long-term food needs more sustainably.

Genetically modified (GM) crops are widely used by farmers in many countries. There is a broad scientific consensus that currently marketed GM crops and food ingredients produced from them are safe for people and the environment. However, GM crops and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) prompt lively debate and views differ from country to country.

Our commitment to safety, quality and sustainable agriculture covers all our food ingredients, whether from conventional crops or GM crops authorised by regulatory bodies. Where feasible we offer products that meet the preference for foods that do not use ingredients from GM crops. We also support the provision of information to consumers who want to know about the use of ingredients produced from GM crops."

The company therefore lost half a mark in the Controversial Technologies category for its use of GMOs.

Reference:

sustainable living pages (16 March 2020)

In June 2018, Ethical Consumer viewed a report on the Environmental Working Group’s website, which had been published in February 2016, and looked at lobbying by companies opposed to GMO labelling laws.

The report stated that “Big food, farm and biotechnology companies and trade associations working to prevent labeling of food containing genetically engineered ingredients reported spending $101.4 million on lobbying last year.”

The report looked at the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, a trade group that represents food manufacturers, as well as specific companies. It stated that the GMA filed disclosures reporting $10.5 million in lobbying expenditures in 2015 for the anti-labelling battle and other GMA legislative priorities. It also stated that since January 2014 the GMA had hired 34 lobbyists and spent $2.8 million on lobbying that went exclusively to advocate anti-GMO-labelling legislation.

The report also discussed the DARK Act, which had passed the House of Representatives and was being discussed in the Senate, in February 2016. The act would bar states from enacting laws to require GMO labelling and make it harder for companies to make voluntary GMO disclosures. The Act had been passed in August 2016.

The report stated that 9 out of 10 Americans supported GMO labelling laws, and some 64 other nations had imposed them.

Unilever US was said to have spent a total of $730,000 on lobbying in 2015. It therefore lost half a mark under both Political Activities and Controversial Technologies.

Reference:

https://www.ewg.org/research/lobbying-anti-labeling-groups-tops-100m#.Wx-IjtVKjcs (25 February 2016)

In March 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed the Ren Clean Skincare website for its policy on the use of nanotechnology. The website stated:

"None of our products contain Nano particles and no processes used in producing our products/ingredients create any Nano-sized particles as a by-product. No Nano particles are incorporated in our products by any other means."

This story is for information only.

Reference:

https://www.renskincare.com/ (5 March 2019)

In March 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed Unilever's profile on the Open Secrets website and saw that in 2018 it had spent $1,540,000 on lobbying. It also stated that in the 2018 cycle the company and its employees had donated $42,328 to political parties, with 87% going to Democrats.

As a result Unilever lost a whole mark under the Political Activities category.

Reference:

Open Secrets generic ref 2019 (2 January 2019)

An investigation by The Times published on April 15 2017 disclosed that FTSE 100 groups had spent more than £24 million on lobbying in Brussels and about £335,000 funding all-party parliamentary groups in Westminster.
The research examined political spending between January 2015 to March 2017.
Less than £10,000 of identified political and lobbying spending in the EU was disclosed to shareholders in the companies’ recent annual reports.

According to the report Unilever spent 500,000 euros on EU lobbying.
The company did not donate to any all-party parliamentary groups.
When contacted, the company replied: “The amount declared in the EU Transparency Register is not a political donation, and covers the costs covered by the register – e.g. staff costs in our Brussels office related to direct or indirect engagement; office expenses; trade association memberships and travel expenses.”

Reference:

Big business spends £25m on lobbying politicians (15 April 2017)

In March 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed Unilever's profile on the Open Secrets website and saw that between 2014 and 2019 Ben & Jerry’s had donated a total of $44,222 to political parties, with 76% going to Democrats and 0% to Republicans.

As a result Ben & Jerry’s lost half a mark under the Political Activities category.

Reference:

Open Secrets generic ref 2019 (2 January 2019)

In March 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed Unilever's 2019 Annual Report for details of director remuneration. The report indicated that two directors had a salary of over £1,000,000.

The document stated that:
Effective from January 2020:•
CEO: 4% increase to €1,508,000
CFO: 3% increase to €1,135,960

Ethical Consumer also viewed an article on the Guardian website from February 2018 titled "Unilever chief's pay package rises 51% to £10.3m" which stated that changes made to Unilever's remuneration policies could see the directors inline for even bigger paypackets and bonuses. It als stated that "Unilever said its remuneration committee was “of the view that this increased maximum opportunity is fully justified by higher risk and more stretching performance requirements”.

Ethical Consumer deemed any salary over £1,000,000 to be excessive and as a result Unilever lost half a mark in the Anti-Social Finance category.

Reference:

sustainable living pages (16 March 2020)

Unilever was one of the FTSE-listed firms included on a register of companies that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, said risked damaging “the social fabric of our country” by paying bosses too much money, according to a report in the Guardian on 19th December 2017.

The Guardian article stated that in August 2017, May ordered the creation of the world’s first public register of companies that ignored shareholder concerns and awarded “pay rises to bosses that far outstrip the company’s performance”. She said calling out the firms would help tackle the “abuses and excess in the boardroom” and restore public confidence in big business.

The public register was published by the Investment Association, a trade body of investment firms managing the pensions of million of Britons, and listed every company in the FTSE All-Share Index that had suffered at least a 20% shareholder rebellion against proposals for executives pay, re-election of directors or other resolution at their shareholder meetings. More than a fifth of Britain’s FTSE companies appeared on the list.

In the vote by Unilever plc shareholders at the company’s AGM in 2018, 35.81% voted against the company’s remuneration policy.

The company therefore lost half a mark under Anti-Social Finance.

Reference:

Public Register (7 June 2018)

In March 2020 Ethical consumer viewed Unilever PLC subsidiary list in its latest Annual Report (dated 2019). This showed that the company had a number of subsidiaries in countries which, at the time of writing, Ethical Consumer considered to be tax havens.

Of these subsidiaries a number were considered high risk company types for the likely use of tax avoidance strategies. These included the following Swiss based companies:
Helmsman Capital
Unilever Finance International
Unilever Business and Marketing Support
Unilever Overseas Holdings

They did not have an explanation to address these Swiss subsidiaries.

The Unilever website contained a significant section on tax. This stated "We use the OECD definition of tax havens and have four companies in the Unilever Group located in countries identified as tax havens: two in Panama, one in Jersey and one in the Isle of Man. The Panama companies are both operating companies: one is a marketing and sales company and the other provides regional services including logistics. The Jersey and Isle of Man companies are both holding companies which are UK tax resident and therefore subject to tax in the UK. ."

the statement also stated that, "We aim to pay the right amount of tax at the right time, on the profits we make, and in the countries where we create the value that generates those profits."

However no country by country reporting could be found.

As a result of having two or more high risk subsidiaries in countries considered by Ethical Consumer to be tax havens and no country by country reporting but a strong statement on tax, Unilever received Ethical Consumer's middle rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies and lost a half mark under Anti-Social Finance.

Reference:

sustainable living pages (16 March 2020)