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Unilever to require all suppliers to pay living wage

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Unilever will require all of its suppliers to pay their staff a ‘living wage’, and has committed to developing the skills of millions of people in its own workforce and beyond.

The company, which is behind major brands including Marmite and Dove, will require anyone that provides goods and services to the firm to pay at least a “living wage or income” by 2030, as part of its plans towards helping to build a more equitable and inclusive society.

It will work with suppliers, businesses, government and NGOs to help encourage the global uptake of living wage practices.

It did not define what it considered to be a “living wage”.

Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, said: “The two biggest threats that the world currently faces are climate change and social inequality. The past year has undoubtedly widened the social divide, and decisive and collective action is needed to build a society that helps to improve livelihoods, embraces diversity, nurtures talent, and offers opportunities for everyone.

“We believe the actions we are committing to will make Unilever a better, stronger business; ready for the huge societal changes we are experiencing today – changes that will only accelerate. Without a healthy society, there cannot be a healthy business.”

The consumer products giant will also help its employees prepare for the future of work by ensuring they are reskilled or upskilled by 2025.

By 2030 it planned to have also developed the skills of 10 million young people beyond the Unilever workforce by providing work experience, and by working with partners on LevelUp – a youth employability platform – to provide training, volunteering and internship opportunities.

It will test new employment models so that staff can be offered more flexibility. It will work with unions and employee representatives to develop flexible employment contracts with benefits including pension plans and time off work to study or re-train.

It also said it expected to increase the number of apprenticeship schemes it offered internationally, and would work with suppliers and distributors to build vocational skills and share job opportunities.

Finally, Unilever said it hoped to eradicate bias and discrimination by introducing a new equity, diversity and inclusion strategy. It aimed to remove bias in recruitment and establish leadership accountability for empowering employees, and aimed to achieve a workforce that was representative of the population in the countries it operated in.

The past year has undoubtedly widened the social divide, and decisive and collective action is needed to build a society that helps to improve livelihoods, embraces diversity, nurtures talent, and offers opportunities for everyone” – Alan Jope, Unilever

By 2025 it will spend €2bn annually with diverse suppliers, including SMEs owned by women, under-represented racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities and members of the LGBT community.

Gabriela Bucher, executive director at Oxfam International, said Unilever’s plans demonstrated the actions that were necessary for private sector firms to improve their equality records.

“We welcome Unilever’s commitments for living wages and farmer incomes in the global supply chain – an important step in the right direction – and are proud to have been a partner of Unilever as it formed this ambitious new plan,” said Bucher.

“How it is implemented is also crucial. We will work alongside Unilever as it does this, helping it to deliver for under-represented groups, to accelerate their systemic changes and to shift industry practice and laws.”

Professor John Ruggie, a former special representative for business and human rights at the United Nations and a member of Unilever’s Sustainability Advisory Council said: “The right to an adequate standard of living is a fundamental human right – sadly one that many of millions of people around the world are unable to access. Decent work, enough to adequately maintain yourself and your family not only helps people escape poverty but helps economic and social development too.”

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