In October 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.org (7 March 2019)

In October 2020 Ethical Consumer searched Ben & Jerry’s UK website for a policy on genetically modified ingredients and the use of genetically engineered animal feed.

A page titled 'Our Non-GMO Standards' stated "all Ben & Jerry’s flavors sold in pints, mini-cups, Pint Slices, and Scoop Shops are made with non-GMO ingredients."

It further stated "Our dairy and egg suppliers still use conventional animal feeds that contain GMO grains. We are actively seeking cost-effective options for farmers within our supply chain to convert to non-GMO animal feed."

"We are actively seeking cost-effective options for farmers within our supply chain to convert to non-GMO animal feed."

In June 2017 the British government website www.food.gov.uk stated that the EU animal feed industry imported 70% of its maize, soya and rapeseed requirements; that "almost all" of the soya from the major producers Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and the USA was genetically modified and that "much of" the maize imported from the USA was genetically modified.

While the company had a policy that demonstrated it was making an effort in relation the eliminating GMO from its supply chain, it continued to use GMO animal feed and it was not stated what progress had been made towards eliminating use of GMO in animal feed.

The company therefore lost half a mark in the Controversial Technologies category.

Reference:

benjerry.co.uk (12 October 2020)

In October 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:

unilever.com (8 October 2020)

In March 2020, Ethical Consumer searched the Fung Group's website for a cotton sourcing policy. Although the company's subsidiaries sold a range of products which included cotton, no policy could be found.
According to Anti-Slavery International (ASI) website viewed by Ethical Consumer in August 2018, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were two of the world’s largest exporters of cotton, and every year their governments forcibly mobilised over one million citizens to grow and harvest cotton. Due to the high proportion of cotton likely to have come from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the prevalence of forced labour in its production, the company lost half a mark in the Workers Rights category.

The Organic Trade Association website, www.ota.com, stated in July 2018 that cotton covered roughly 2.78% of global arable land, but accounted for 12.34% of all insecticide sales and 3.94% of herbicide sales. Due to the impacts of the widespread use of pesticides in cotton production worldwide the company lost half a mark in the Pollution & Toxics category.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit pro biotech organisation, genetically modified cotton accounted for 80% of cotton grown in 2017. Due to the prevalence of GM cotton in cotton supply chains and the lack of any evidence that the company avoided it, it was assumed that some of the company's cotton products contained some GM material. As a result it lost half a mark under the Controversial Technology category.
Overall the company received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for its cotton sourcing policy.

Reference:

https://www.funggroup.com (11 March 2020)

In October 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed Unilever's profile on the Open Secrets website and saw that in 2020 it had spent $4.23m on lobbying. It also stated that in the 2020 cycle the company and its employees had donated $45,090 to political parties, with 80% going to Democrats.

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

NOTE: OpenSecrets states: “The organization itself did not donate, rather the money came from the organization's PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate family members. Organizations themselves cannot contribute to candidates and party committees. Totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.”

Reference:

Open Secrets generic ref 2020 (2020)

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)

According to the organisation's website www.weforum.org, viewed by Ethical Consumer in October 2020, Unilever was an Industry Affiliate, Partner or Associate of the World Economic Forum. This was regarded by Ethical Consumer as an international corporate lobby group which exerted undue corporate influence on policy-makers in favour of market solutions that were potentially detrimental to the environment and human rights. The company therefore lost half a mark under Political Activities.

Reference:

February 2020 Members list (February 2020)

In March 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed the 2018 Annual Report for Li & Fung, which stated that three directors had received remuneration over $2million. Ethical Consumer considered amounts over £1million to be excessive. As such the company lost half a mark under Anti-Social Finance.

Reference:

Li & Fung AR 2018 (11 March 2020)

In October 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 also 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:

AR 2019 (2019)

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 October 2020 Ethical consumer viewed the Unilever subsidiary list in its latest Annual Report (dated 2019) and its family tree on the D&B Hoovers corporate database. 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:
UNUS Holding B.V. in The Netherlands
Unilever Overseas Holdings AG in Switzerland
Unilever Ireland (Holdings) Limited in Ireland
Rizofoor B.V. in Netherlands
Helmsman Capital AG in The Netherlands
Unilever Finance International B.V. in the Netherlands

The Unilever website contained a significant section on tax. It stated "We aim to pay the right amount of tax at the right time, on the profits we make". It further stated "We use the OECD definition of tax havens and as at 31 December 2019 we had 12 companies in the Unilever Group located in countries identified as tax havens: two in Panama, one in Jersey, one in the Isle of Man and eight in the British Virgin Islands." It provided narrative explanations for the Panama, Jersey and Isle of Man companies. It stated that the British Virgin Islands companies were in the process of being liquidated.

The Unilever website featured a document titled 'Top 30 Tax Paid by Country 2019', which listed whether each country listed was home to the following operations: factory, sales, R&D, Head Office. However, Ethical Consumer considered it necessary for adequate country by country reporting to state the company name, place of incorporation, and several other criteria which were not featured in the document.

As a result of having two or more high risk subsidiaries in countries considered by Ethical Consumer to be tax havens and inadequate country by country reporting, Unilever received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies and a whole mark under Tax Conduct.

Reference:

AR 2019 (2019)

In March 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed the family tree for Li & Fung on the corporate database D&B Hoovers. This stated that Li & Fung was registered in Bermuda.

It also had a holding company in Bermuda, and it had mutiple subsidiaries in other known tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands and Hong Kong.

An internet search using the search terms “Li & Fung tax policy statement country” found no country-by-country financial information or reporting (CBCR), nor clear public tax statement confirming that it was this company’s policy not to engage in tax avoidance activity or to use tax havens for tax avoidance purposes.

As the company had more than two high-risk subsidiaries based in tax havens, and the parent company was also based in a tax haven, it received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for likely tax avoidance strategies and lost a whole mark under Anti-Social Finance.

Reference:

Generic Hoovers ref (2020)