In May 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed the Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP) website. 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:

https://icecream.vtjp.org/ (9 October 2020)

In May 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed Unilever's website for the company's statement on the use of genetically modified ingredients.

The following statement was found on a page titled Responsible Innovation:

"our commitment to safety and quality includes all of our food ingredients, whether produced from conventional crops or from GM crops authorised by regulatory bodies. We believe GM crops are as safe as their traditional counterparts and fully support regulatory control around GM technology and continued scientific research in the area.."

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

Reference:

GM statement (24 May 2021)

In May 2021 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."

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 to 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 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 labelling 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 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.”

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

Reference:

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

In October 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed Unilever's profile on the Open Secrets website and saw that between 2016 and 2020 Ben & Jerry's had donated a total of $32,420 to the Democrats and $25 to the Republicans.

As a result Ben & Jerry’s lost half a 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)

In April 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed Unilever's 2020 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 in 2020 Alan Jope CEO had received total remuneration of €3,447,000, and Graeme Pitkethly CFO €2,961,000.

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:

2020 Annual Report (20 April 2021)

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 May 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed the Unilever subsidiary list in its latest Annual Report (dated 2020) 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 holding or finance companies 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 Switzerland
Unilever Finance International B.V. in the Netherlands

Ethical Consumer looked for country-by-country financial information or reporting (CBCR), a 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, and a narrative explanation for what each group entity located in a tax haven is for, and how it is not being used for purposes of tax minimisation.

The Unilever website contained a significant section on tax. It stated "We use the OECD definition of tax havens and as at 31 December 2020 we had 4 companies in the Unilever Group located in countries identified as tax havens: two in Panama, one in Jersey, one in the Isle of Man." It provided narrative explanations for the Panama, Jersey and Isle of Man companies. It stated "During 2018, Unilever completed an acquisition and, as part of that acquisition, acquired eight companies based in the British Virgin Islands. Unilever has now unwound this structure and these legal entities have been liquidated in line with our global tax principles."

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. It stated, "(2020 country level corporate tax paid will be published in April 2021)" but this was not found.

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:

2020 Annual Report (20 April 2021)