Our material issues
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We live in an uncertain and constantly changing world. Having a formal process to identify our material sustainability issues helps us report on those that matter most to our business and stakeholders.
Defining our material sustainability issues
A sustainability issue is material to Unilever if it meets two conditions. Firstly, if it is considered a principal risk or an element of a principal risk, which could impact our business or performance. And secondly, if it is deemed to be important to our key stakeholders, including: our people, consumers, customers (retailers), suppliers & business partners, planet & society (citizens, NGOs, governments) and our employees.
We use our sustainability materiality assessment to identify priority sustainability issues across our value chain so that we are able to report on the issues of most interest to our stakeholders. We update our assessment every two years to make sure it reflects changes in our business and the external context.
Our material sustainability issues
In our 2021 sustainability materiality assessment, we identified 11 sustainability issues that are material to both our business and our stakeholders. This year, for the first time, we have aligned our sustainability materiality assessment with our process for identifying and assessing the principal risks we report in our Annual Report and Accounts.
All of the material sustainability issues listed below are recognised as a principal risk or an element of a principal risk in our annual risk management process. These are the most material sustainability issues to Unilever’s business and performance at this time and could impact us in the short term (the next two years), medium term (the next three to ten years) or longer term (beyond ten years). Our principal risks did not change in 2021.
Material sustainability issues to our business and our stakeholders (in alphabetical order)
Further disclosure on this topic in the 2021 Annual Reports & Accounts
Diversity & inclusion
Future of work
Health & wellbeing
Nutrition & diets
Packaging & waste
Our 2021 Annual Report and Accounts and the Planet & Society section of our website, set out the actions we’re taking on each of the 11 material sustainability issues.
We identified an additional two sustainability issues that are important to some of our stakeholders but not yet considered to be a principal risk or an element of a principal risk:
- Biodiversity: We recognise that biodiversity loss has the characteristics of an emerging risk as understanding of the link between climate and nature grows. Interest in biodiversity and nature loss is rising particularly across governments and NGOs and certain groups of investors and consumers. Protecting and regenerating nature is therefore a key pillar of the Unilever Compass and reflects our commitments on zero deforestation, sustainable sourcing of key commodities including palm oil, water stewardship and use of biodegradable ingredients.
- Animal testing: Concern over the use of animal testing for cosmetic and household products is high among certain groups of consumers and NGOs. We’ve had a leading position on alternatives to animal testing for many years and continue to work alongside regulatory authorities, NGOs and like-minded companies to share science and advocate the use of non-animal approaches for safety testing. We also continue to seek PETA cruelty-free certification for our Beauty and Personal Care brands.
Our 2021 materiality assessment
Our most recent materiality assessment was conducted in 2021 to cover the 2021-22 reporting period. We have refreshed our materiality process and methodology to provide more granular insights on the interests and concerns of our key stakeholders: our people, consumers, customers, suppliers & business partners, planet & society and shareholders. We use stakeholder insights to gauge the relative importance of each issue to our key stakeholders. Our four-stage process is detailed below:
Phase 1: Issue and topic identification
We refreshed and consolidated the list of sustainability issues and topics that are directly relevant to Unilever across our value chain. We identified a long list of 125 sustainability topics (PDF 340.37 KB) by researching emerging sustainability trends, macro forces, competitor sustainability priorities and global reporting standards. Our long list included new issues and topics, reflecting changes to the sustainability landscape in recent years such as the increased focus on social issues from a number of stakeholders.
We grouped these topics into 13 broad issues. We took the decision to exclude issues such as tax, safety and data security from our 2021 sustainability materiality assessment because they are part of our broader responsible business agenda and are not sustainability issues.
Phase 2: Issue prioritisation
We assessed each issues importance to our stakeholders, using our own stakeholder research and third-party research to determine whether the issues were of high, medium or low importance to each stakeholder. We incorporated additional analysis on the material issues of other FMCG companies, mandatory and voluntary ESG reporting regulations, and news coverage including social media conversations. We then mapped the 13 issues to the principal risks we report in our Annual Report and Accounts, and the key business risk which underpin these.
Phase 3: Strategic alignment and disclosure
Our 2021 sustainability materiality assessment confirmed that our material sustainability issues and the sustainability agenda set out in the Unilever Compass are closely aligned. The insights gathered from our sustainability materiality assessment have informed the sustainability disclosures in our Annual Report and Accounts.
Phase 4: Communicate materiality analysis outcomes
We communicate the outcomes of our materiality assessment on this page of our website. This year we have chosen not to publish a materiality matrix as all of the sustainability issues we have identified as material are recognised as a principal risk or an element of a principal risk and therefore covered in our Annual Report and Accounts.