Ben & Jerry’s maker Unilever to insist suppliers pay ‘living wage’

Unilever has said that by 2030 it will refuse to do business with any firm that does not pay at least a living wage or income to its staff.

The consumer goods giant defined a living wage as one that covered a family’s basic needs “and helped them break the cycle of poverty”.

It said it wanted to raise wages for people outside its own workforce in order to promote economic inclusion.

It is one of the first big companies to make such a commitment.

Oxfam called the move a “step in the right direction”.

Unilever, whose products include Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Dove soap, said it was committed to helping to build “a more equitable and inclusive society”.

“Our ambition is to improve living standards for low-paid workers worldwide,” it said.

“We will therefore ensure that everyone who directly provides goods and services to Unilever earns at least a living wage or income, by 2030.”

The wage should be enough to cover food, water, housing, education, healthcare, transport and clothing, and also include a provision for unexpected events, Unilever said.

The firm said it was working with partners to establish exact rates of pay in the 190 countries where it operates.

However, Unilever’s chief human resources officer Leena Nair said it would pay twice as much as the minimum wage in some countries.

Unilever said it already paid its own employees at least a living wage, but it wanted to secure the same for more people beyond its workforce, specifically focusing on the most vulnerable workers in manufacturing and agriculture.

‘Millions to benefit’

“We will work with our suppliers, other businesses, governments and NGOs – through purchasing practices, collaboration and advocacy – to create systemic change and global adoption of living wage practices,” it added.

It has more than 60,000 direct suppliers worldwide, from smallholder farmers to major companies.

All of them will be covered by its commitment, it said, with millions of people set to benefit.

Unilever already audits its suppliers over climate change commitments, and will use these existing arrangements to make sure workers are being paid a living wage.

Suppliers not willing to sign up may lose their contracts with the firm, Ms Nair said.

Ethical initiatives

Also by 2030, Unilever said, it would equip 10 million young people with essential job skills.

Additionally, it committed to spending €2bn (£1.8bn) with suppliers owned and managed by people from under-represented groups by 2025 in an effort to improve diversity.

“The two biggest threats that the world currently faces are climate change and social inequality,” said Unilever chief executive Alan Jope.

“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.”

The move is the latest in a series of ethical initiatives by Unilever, including promoting vegan food products and experimenting with a four-day working week.

Gabriela Bucher, executive director at Oxfam International, welcomed Unilever’s announcement, calling it “an important step in the right direction”.

She said: “Unilever’s plan shows the kind of responsible action needed from the private sector that can have a great impact on tackling inequality and help to build a world in which everyone has the power to thrive, not just survive.”

Laura Gardiner, director of the Living Wage Foundation, said commitments such as Unilever’s show how some employers “are leading the way in spreading the living wage through both their business networks, and across their global operations”.

Unilever joins food services giants Sodexo and Compass Group on the Living Wage Foundation’s list of recognised service providers which have made similar supply chain commitments.

– BBC

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