In October 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, and the Sustainable Living Plan pages on the Unilever website.

The summary showed a clear understanding of the company’s environmental impacts. It discussed a number of specific environmental impacts: Reducing greenhouse gas emission, including through transportation, manufacturing, product design and office use; water; waste, including recycling, plastic and toxic waste; and responsible sourcing including palm oil, soy and paper.

The summary provided data related to a number of dated and quantifiable targets outlined on the sustainable living pages, including:

- Halving the greenhouse gas impact of products across the lifecycle by 2030, with a baseline of 2010.
- Reducing scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 100% from its own operations by 2030 (as part of the ambition to become carbon positive in manufacturing).
- Halving the amount of virgin plastic used in products by 2025, from a baseline year of 2019.

It stated on the company website that the 'Unilever Sustainable Living Plan' was internally validated, and "aligned with the external independent assurance of selected USLP targets by PwC", demonstrating that it was verified by an external body.

As the company had updated its environmental information within the past two years, showed a reasonable understanding of its main impacts, had multiple dated and quantified future targets, and was independently verified, it lost no marks and received Ethical Consumer’s best rating for its Environmental Reporting.

Reference: (8 October 2020)

In October 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed the website of Unilever, looking for information on what the company was doing to tackle climate change. Ethical Consumer was looking for the following:

For the company to discuss its areas of climate impact, and to discuss plausible ways it has cut them in the past, and ways that it will cut them in the future.
For the company to not be involved in any particularly damaging projects like tar sands, oil or aviation, to not be subject to damning secondary criticism regarding it’s climate actions, and to have a policy to avoid investing in fossil fuels.
For the company to report annually on its scope 1&2 greenhouse gas emissions (direct emissions by the company), and to go some way towards reporting on its scope 3 emissions (emissions from the supply chain, investments and sold products).
For the company to have a target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with international agreements (counted as the equivalent of at least 2.5% cut per year in scope 1&2 emissions), and to not count offsetting towards this target.

The company's annual report 2019 contained a section titled 'Reducing carbon emissions'. This stated that by the end of 2019 energy from its factories had been reduced by 29% per tonne since 2008. It stated that since 2008 the company had reduced CO2 emissions from energy per tonne by 65%. It also stated that 24% of its manufacturing sites had achieved carbon neutral status. It went on to state that it had developed a roadmap to be carbon positive by 2030.

The company stated that it had been measuring and reporting on its carbon emissions since 1995. Its annual GHG emissions were listed on p.43 of the report. This included Scopes 1 and 2. It also included figures for 'Total scope 3 (tonnes CO2e)'. Scope 3 data was said to include emissions from consumer use, ingredients and packaging use, and distribution and retail use. It stated that transportation was operated by a third party and accounted for under Scope 3. It therefore appeared that company's scope 3 reporting covered some supply chain emissions.

The company stated that it advocated for changes to public policy frameworks to enable accelerated decarbonisation, in line with the upper level of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It had the target of halving the greenhouse gas impact of products across the lifecycle by 2030, with a baseline of 2010. It also had the target to reduce scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 100% from its own operations by 2030 (as part of the ambition to become carbon positive in manufacturing). These targets exceeded Ethical Consumer’s requirements.

Overall, Unilever received Ethical Consumer’s best rating for carbon management and reporting was not marked down under Climate Change.


AR 2019 (2019)

In October 2020 Ethical Consumer searched the Unilever website for the company's policy on the use of the hazardous chemicals parabens, triclosan and phthalates.

Some forms or uses of these chemicals are banned or restricted in the EU or the USA.

Triclosan is an antibacterial and is a suspected endocrine disruptor. Parabens are also endocrine disruptors and have been linked to breast cancer and are used as preservatives. Phthalates, usually DEP or DBP, are used in fragrances and are endocrine disruptors.

A strong policy on toxics would be no use of these chemicals or clear, dated targets for ending their use.

Unilever stated the following:

'We use a limited number of parabens that have been scientifically proven as safe for using in personal care products'

'We stopped manufacturing skin care and cleansing products with triclosan in 2015 and we committed to phasing out of triclosan and triclocarban across all our products by the end of 2018. We have achieved this goal for all our existing products.'

‘We do not use phthalates in the making of our products, although very small traces, which are well within safety levels, may be present. In line with our own standards of avoiding phthalates, we do not use Diethyl phthalate (DEP), which is a solvent used to mix fragrance ingredients. Instead, we use other approaches to bring together fragrance ingredients.’

As Unilever had a clear policy statement banning the use of triclosan and phthalates, but no dated plan for ending the use of parabens, it received Ethical Consumer’s middle rating for Pollutions and Toxics and lost half a mark in this category.

Reference: (8 October 2020)

In October 2020, Ethical Consumer searched Unilever’s website for the company's policy on the use of microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers.

A webpage entitled: ‘Your ingredients questions answered’ was found. This page stated: “We stopped using plastic scrub beads in 2014 in response to concerns about the build-up of microplastics in oceans and lakes”. It was unclear whether this policy extended to the use of other microplastics other than scrub beads. No other mention of microplastics was found.

According to Beat the Microbead, there are more than 500 known microplastics ingredients that can be found in our personal care products such as toothpastes, face washes, scrubs and shower gels. They are tiny plastic particles that are added for their exfoliating properties, but sometimes purely for aesthetic purposes only.

A recent report by Code Check found that non-biodegradable liquid polymers were also prevalent across a wide range of cosmetic products. Like microplastics, these materials degrade with a similar difficulty in the environment and may cause similar harm.

In 2018, the UK government banned the use of microbeads in toothpastes, shower gels and facial scrubs. However, some products classified as “leave on” were not subject to the ban, this would include lotions, sun cream and makeup, as well as abrasive cleaning products. This ban did not extend to non-biodegradable liquid polymers.

Given that the company’s policy did not cover the use of all microplastics or the issue of non-biodegradable liquid polymers, the company lost half a mark under Pollution & Toxics.

Reference: (8 October 2020)

In March 2019, Ethical Consumer viewed an article on Alternet, titled “Ben & Jerry’s Is Poisoning Vermont’s Water and Ruining Its Soil”, dated 13th November 2017.

In its 2017 report “A Failure to Regulate: Big Dairy & Water Pollution in Vermont”, Regeneration Vermont claimed Ben & Jerry’s, as one of the two main dairy buyers in Vermont, was responsible for deterioration of the water and soil quality in Vermont. The report said that:

• More than 100 other bodies of water in Vermont had been classified as “impaired”, which “in many cases... means filled with the green slime that is cyanobacteria, smelling so badly that summer camps have become uninhabitable, and beaches are posted with signs that warn, ‘no swimming’.“
• Public and private sources estimate that from 40 percent to 79 percent of the phosphorous and nitrogen pollution in Vermont’s waterways comes from dairy farms. And, almost all the pesticide pollution comes from these dairies.
• In 2016, the EPA classified 15 of Vermont’s lakes and 86 of the state’s rivers and streams as “impaired.”
• According to Julie Moore of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, roughly half—48.5 percent—of the pollution in Lake Champlain comes from agricultural sources.

Regeneration Vermont also analysed the state’s pesticide data and found that Vermont farmers used the following volumes of weedkiller on corn (most of which was used to feed dairy cows), between 1999-2013:
• 1,432,650 pounds of the weedkiller metolachlor, an endocrine disruptor known to cause cancer and birth defects.
• 1,037,575 pounds of the weedkiller atrazine, banned in Europe because it’s carcinogenic, causes birth defects, is an endocrine disruptor and pollutes drinking water.
• 224,628 pounds of simazine, also banned in Europe, for the same reasons listed above.

Ben & Jerry's therefore lost half a mark under Habitats and Resources and pollution and toxics.

Reference: (19 March 2019)

In October 2019, the Business and Human Rights website published an article which named a number of companies. This article stated that, "And last year the NGO [Greenpeace] accused palm-oil giant Wilmar, as well as consumer brands including Colgate-Palmolive, Hershey, Nestle and Unilever, of continuing to buy from groups that were destroying the rainforest."

All the companies listed lost half a mark under Habitats & Resources in light of this story.


Forest 500, ‘the world’s first rainforest rating agency’, is a project of the Global Canopy Programme. In 2019, it published its fifth annual ranking. It ranks 350 of the biggest companies in forest-risk supply chains and the 150 biggest investors in these companies.

Tropical rainforests cover 7% of the earth, but contain 50% of global biodiversity. Their ecosystems regulate global water systems and the climate, and they directly support the livelihoods of over a billion people. The social and economic benefits of these services are estimated to be in the trillions.

Over two thirds of tropical deforestation is driven by the production of a handful of commodities including; palm oil, soya, timber, paper and pulp, beef, and leather. These commodities are in products we use every day and are present in more than 50% of the packaged products in our

Companies and financial institutions had been assessed and ranked in respect to their policies addressing potential deforestation embedded in forest-risk commodity supply chains. The 2018 report stated that "the Forest 500 methodology was updated in 2018 to better distinguish between companies who have set commitments, and those that have taken the next step towards implementation. This new methodology has meant that many companies have received lower scores this year." A document on the 2019 methodology stated that had been updated again to better align with the guidance of the Accountability Framework, a set of norms and guidance on ethical supply chains developed by a coalition of civil society partners. Three new indicators were added and two indicators were updated.

The Forest 500 ranking and analysis will be repeated annually until 2020, to help inform, enable and track progress towards deforestation free supply chains.

Each company was rated from 0-5, across five categories:

Unilever was one of the 350 companies rated in the 2019 report.

It received an overall score of 3. Its scores in each category were as follows:
Overall Approach 2 out of 5

Commodity Score (palm, paper & pulp, beef and soy) 4 out of 5

Commitment Strength 4 out of 5

Reporting and implementation 3 out of 5

Social Considerations 4 out of 5

The company was a Consumer Goods Forum member but had not signed up to the following collective commitment: New York Declaration on Forests signatory

As it had scored under 4 overall, it lost half a mark under Habitats and Resources.


Forest 500 - 2019 ranking (2019)

In March 2018 Greenpeace International released its report called “Moment of truth time for brands to come clean about their links to forest destruction for palm oil”.

The report was based on the fact that in 2010 members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF)
pledged to do their bit to protect forests and limit climate change, with a clear commitment to clean up global commodity supply chains by 2020.

However Greenpeace stated “with less than two years to go until 2020, deforestation to produce commodities such as palm oil shows no sign of slowing down. Corporate commitments and policies have proliferated, but companies have largely failed to implement them. As a result, consumer brands, including those with ‘no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation’ (NDPE) policies, still use palm oil from producers that destroy rainforests, drain carbon-rich peatland and violate the human rights of workers and local communities – making their customers complicit in forest destruction, climate change and human rights abuses.”

At the start of 2018, Greenpeace International challenged 16 leading members of the CGF to demonstrate their progress towards a clean palm oil supply chain. It called on them to disclose publicly the mills that produced their palm oil, and the names of the producer groups that controlled those mills. Eight of the global brands responded to Greenpeace’s challenge and published data revealing where and from whom they ultimately buy palm oil. It said “Transparency and accountability – including the publication of explicit details about who produces the palm oil that companies use – create the conditions for sectoral reform.”

Unilever was one of the eight companies that had responded to Greenpeace’s challenge and had provided data on its traders / suppliers and the names of the mills and producers.

Yet in 2017, Greenpeace assessed the actions palm oil traders were taking to ensure that they were not buying from producers that were destroying rainforests, draining peatlands or exploiting workers and local communities. It said “Although most traders had published NDPE policies, there were serious problems with their implementation: inconsistent standards, questionable enforcement and non-existent deadlines. Not only was the palm oil industry not working to the 2020 deadline set by brands, it did not even have a common timeline for delivering a palm oil supply free from deforestation and other social and environmental harms.”

Unilever lost half a mark under Ethical Consumer's palm oil category due to the fact Greenpeace concluded “none of the major traders can yet be relied upon to supply brands with palm oil that meets their NDPE standards; indeed, they are all known to source from forest destroyers... It follows that by sourcing from these traders brands are buying palm oil contaminated by forest destruction.”


Moment of truth time for brands to come clean about their links to forest destruction for palm oil (

In October 2017 Ethical Consumer viewed an article by The Guardian, dated July 2017, which stated that a Unilever palm oil supplier (PT Agra Bumi Niaga (ABN)) has been linked to deforestation of ‘Sumatra’s last tract of rainforest shared by elephants, orangutans, rhinos, and tigers together in one ecosystem’, in a report by Rainforest Action Network.

The report contained an update, which stated, ‘Since the Guardian reported on the investigation, the remaining forest in ABN’s nearly 2,000 hectare concession has been reduced from 420 hectares to just 54 hectares.’

It also stated ‘Unilever admitted that it had indirectly bought palm oil from PT ABN through its suppliers, Wilmar and Musim Mas, and said that it had requested “a response and an action plan” from them soon.’

RAN had accused companies of doing too little to enforce ‘no deforestation’ policies. As a result Unilever lost a half mark under the Palm Oil category.


PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestlé accused of complicity in illegal deforestation (26 October 2017)

According to a report entitled 'Palm Oil's Black Box', published by Mighty in December 2016, Unilever was a customer of the secretive palm oil trading company, Olam, which was linked with deforestation in Southeast Asia and Africa.
Olam was one of the biggest palm oil trading companies that has yet to adopt a strong forest conservation and human rights policy. Olam was majority owned by the people of Singapore through their national wealth fund, Temasek.
According to the report, only 1% of the total palm oil traded by Olam in 2015 came from its own plantations. The remaining 99% came from third party suppliers, the names of which Olam failed to disclose. Given that so much of the company's palm oil came from unknown suppliers, the report's authors said there was reason to be concerned that Olam was functioning as an outlet for rogue palm oil suppliers engaged in deforestation.
Having operated for many years in Southeast Asia, Olam had begun to develop operations in Africa through joint ventures with the government of the Republic of Gabon. Under these joint ventures Olam received 300,000 hectares of landbank for its own plantations, plus a programme incentivizing Gabonese farmers to grow palm oil on a further 200,000 hectares as ‘smallholders’ and selling the product to Olam.
These deals were met with criticism, partly by Rainforest Foundation UK, which found that communities were denied the right to free, prior and informed consent to development on their lands and that the land included culturally important sites.
Mighty had also analysed satellite imagery of Gabon and determined that Olam had cleared approximately 20,000 hectares of mature, high quality rainforest since 2012. Mighty’s field team, in partnership with Gabonese NGO Brainforest, also found that Olam had important Southeast Asian workers to Gabon rather than hire locals and it was unclear whether employees and smallholders would receive a living wage or an adequate price for their product.
The company responded to the report in an article published in the Straits Times, a Singapore daily newspaper closely linked to the government, stating:
"Gabon has a right and an essential need to develop its agriculture sector to diversify its economy, improve food security to feed its people and create new livelihood opportunities, while also protecting its natural forests. Olam's palm plantations in Gabon are being developed in an environmentally and socially responsible way to contribute to each of these objectives. Our approach balances palm plantation establishment with natural forest protection. In fact we are conserving and protecting areas of verified high conservation value forest within our concessions greater in size than our plantations."
According to the report, Olam’s customers included Nestle, Kelloggs, Mondelez, ConAgra Unilever, Kraft Heinz, Pepisco, JDE and Tchibo.
Unilever therefore lost a mark under palm oil.


Palm Oil's black box (December 2016)