LONDON/ROTTERDAM: Unilever has released its first human rights report by acknowledging that 21 million people worldwide are victims of forced labor, 34 nations present an "extreme" risk of human rights violations, and 1.3 billion people try and survive on less than US$1.25 a day.
The self-appraisal highlights key areas of progress, including Unilever's work to empower women, its progress in the fight against sexual harassment, and addressing health and safety issues across its supply chain.
Unilever CEO Paul Polman commented: "Business can only flourish in societies in which human rights are respected, upheld and advanced. And yet, as incidents such as the tragedy at Rana Plaza in 2013 remind us, basic human rights for many of those employed in corporate value chains across the world cannot be taken for granted. Safe working conditions, freedom of association, fair wages, protection from forced labour, and freedom from harassment and discrimination: these must become universal operating conditions. Today, they are not."
Acknowledging the "enormous" challenges facing the business community, Polman emphasized that sustainability for Unilever means being commercially successful and socially and environmentally responsible: "Today, the risk of systemic human rights abuses exists across our value chain and the value chains of other global businesses. This is a reality we must confront and work together to resolve."
Marcela Manubens, Unilever's global vice president, Social Impact added: "Our ambition is to embed the promotion of human rights into every function, every role, and every corner of our organization.
"We have 172 000 employees, 76,000 suppliers and sales in more than 190 countries across the globe, with varying cultural norms and socio-economic challenges. We will know that we have been successful when all of these 172,000 people around the world understand what this agenda means in their job, and are empowered into action.
"We have a long way to go and we cannot do this alone - but being honest about the challenge we face is crucial to making progress," she declared.