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In April 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed Unilever’s March 2021 Sustainable Living Plan.

An environmental policy was deemed necessary to report on a company's environmental performance and set targets for reducing its impacts in the future. A strong policy would include two future, quantified environmental targets, demonstration by the company that it had a reasonable understanding of its main environmental impacts, be dated within two years and have its environmental data independently verified.

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

The report stated:
-In order to achieve our target of carbon positive by 2030, we intend to directly support the generation of more renewable energy than we consume and make the surplus available to the markets and communities in which we operate.
- Halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2030. A footnote stated, "Our GHG footprint target is expressed against a baseline of 2010 and on a ‘per consumer use’ basis. This means a single use, portion or serving of a product."

Many of the figures in the 'Unilever Sustainable Living Plan' were independently assured by PwC, but not all the data.

As the company had updated its environmental information within the past two years, showed a reasonable understanding of its main impacts, had dated and quantified future targets, but not all data was independently verified, it received Ethical Consumer’s middle rating for its Environmental Reporting and lost half a mark in this category.


Unilever UK sustainabilty pages (29 April 2021)

In April 2021 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:

1. 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.
2. For the company to report annually on its scope 1&2 greenhouse gas emissions (direct emissions by the company), and
3. to go some way towards reporting on its scope 3 emissions (emissions from the supply chain, investments and sold products).
4. 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 March 2021 Sustainable Living Plan contained a section titled 'Greenhouse gases'. This stated that "By the end of 2020, we had reduced CO2 from energy by 75%† versus 2008, to 36.94†of CO2 from energy in kg per tonne of production." It also stated, "In order to achieve our target of carbon positive by 2030, we intend to directly support the generation of more renewable energy than we consume."

Its annual GHG emissions were listed in its 2020 Annual Report. This included Scopes 1 to 3 CO2e. It stated: "Our Scope 3 reporting covers all indirect emissions by third parties in these phases of the value chain: raw materials (primary packaging, secondary packaging, ingredients), inbound transportation of raw materials into our factories, retail, consumer use, and disposal.

It stated that two of its GHG reduction targets have been recognised as science-based by the Science Based Target initiative:
Halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across the lifecycle by 2030 (2010 baseline).
Reduce Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 100% from our operations by 2030 (2015 baseline).

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


2020 Annual Report (20 April 2021)

In April 2021 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.

On a page titled 'Your ingredient questions answered', 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.'

Under 'Controlling Impurities' it stated:

‘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. We always ensure that any phthalates we use in packaging are below the levels assessed as safe by regulatory authorities.’

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

Reference: (23 April 2021)

In April 2021, Ethical Consumer searched Unilever’s website for the company's policy on the use of microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers.

A webpage entitled: ‘Microplastics’ stated: “Our journey started in 2014, when we were one of the first companies to stop using small plastic scrub beads... Six years on, and as part of our commitment to fighting climate change and protecting nature, we are now focusing on making our formulations biodegradable by 2030. As part of this, we are in the process of removing other solid polymers which are slow to biodegrade and replacing them with natural or biodegradable alternatives".

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 still appeared to be using non-biodegradable liquid polymers, it lost half a mark under Pollution & Toxics.

Reference: (23 April 2021)

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)

On 30/04/2021 Ethical Consumer searched for information on Unilever ’s use of palm ingredients. The mass production of palm oil has relied on the destruction of rainforests, which has wide ranging impacts including contributing to climate change, as well as loss of biodiversity and human rights.

To get a Best rating in this category, a large company (>£100m annual turnover) needs to have all palm oil and derivatives certified, to publish a list of all its mills (with no problem ones appearing), for at least 50% of total ingredients to be Segregated or Identity Preserved, and for it to publish an annually updated grievence list.

According to its latest (2019) ACOP submission to the RSPO, 99.56% of all its palm ingredients including derivatives were certified RSPO.

The company stated "We can identify a universe of mills for 97% of our core volumes – and publish our list of suppliers publicly", however some were on the list of refiners without effective NDPE implementation: Incasi Raya, PTPN VII, as well as KWANTAS OIL SDN BHD, which may be part of Kwantas Corporation which was on the list.

Less than 50% of its total palm ingredients including derivatives were RSPO Segregated or Identity Preserved.

An annually updated grievance list was found.

As it used some suppliers criticised for not having effective NDPE implementation (No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation), Unilever received a Worst Ethical Consumer Ranking for palm oil sourcing and lost a whole mark in the Palm Oil category.


Generic 2021 (2021)

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)