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Working towards a better, fairer, greener world for all

Climate change is not just an environmental issue, it’s a threat to human rights and deepens inequality by disproportionately affecting people marginalised by poverty. This year, access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment was recognised as a fundamental human right.

Today is the day the world recognises fundamental human rights such as the right to life, to health, to food and to enjoy an adequate standard of living that many of us take for granted, but still more are unable to access.

This year’s Human Rights Day is dedicated to equality and, in particular, to rebuilding a world that is better, fairer and greener. It follows on from the UN Human Rights Council’s decision on 8 October to recognise access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a universal human right, as called for by organisations including Unilever.

The impact of climate change on human rights

People living in vulnerable communities are disproportionately affected by climate change and are at higher risk of Human Rights violations.

Many of them have experienced human rights harms caused by climate change first hand, from extreme weather conditions impacting their access to natural resources such as clean water or a fall in agricultural productivity.

For example, 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. Four million girls in low and lower middle-income countries were prevented from completing their education in 2021 because of climate-related events.

On Human Rights Day, we look at four ways we’re working across Unilever to address climate change and help the communities most impacted by it.

1. Taking action to ensure access to vital resources such as water for everyone

Two boys drinking and splashing water from a community water tap

Access to water is a human right but the increase in extreme weather events created by climate change means this access is being challenged. Today, 29% of the world’s population live in water-stressed areas. By 2030 we will implement water stewardship around 100 of our factories in water-stressed areas, help our consumers save water by making our product formulations 100% biodegradable and build water-management resilience systems through our partnership with the 2030 Water Resources Group.

2. Promoting resilient crops that protect livelihood and the land

Smallholder farmer crouching down to look at the full height of a palm tree

Through our Regenerative Agriculture Principles we’re taking a new approach to farming that aims to work in harmony with nature to ensure the long-term viability and resilience of land. Smallholder farmers such as those in Indonesia’s Riau province, for example, help us manage 40% of Indonesia’s oil palm planted area.

Empowering them with regenerative agricultural practices is critical for the environment and our supply chain. To this end, we trained 1,800 independent smallholders in good agricultural and regenerative practices as well as ‘no deforestation’ and better market access. This has not only improved livelihoods but also positively impacted 10,000 hectares of land.

3. Working with communities to secure land rights

Smallholder farmers sorting their cocoa crop spread out on tables

Indigenous peoples are the guardians of the world’s natural capital. When they have legal or customary rights to their land, they are in a stronger position to protect the forests and environment.

For example, since 2020 in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia we have been working with others to enhance customary and community land rights by establishing a system with the local governments to respond to and mitigate conflict as well as mapping and registering customary-owned and community lands.

And since 2021, Unilever has been working with partners to bring affordable land tenure documentation to hundreds of cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast. The CLAP (Côte d’Ivoire Land Partnership) programme aims to help farmers secure the rights to the land they depend on for survival and create a clear path to prosperity for their communities.

“Each of our actions must do more than benefit the planet to be successful,” acknowledges Unilever’s Chief Procurement Officer, David Ingram. “They must also improve the livelihoods of our farmers, their families and surrounding communities, creating a cycle of prosperity on our journey to make sustainable living commonplace.”

4. Halving emissions by 2030 and asking others to join us

River running through the middle of a forest with mountains in the background

Working to keep the world’s temperature rising beyond 1.5°C requires joint action from business, governments and society to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are a key contributor to climate change.

As well as setting goals as a business to cut emissions in our operations, we’re asking our suppliers to do the same to accelerate the path to net zero across our value chain.

We’re asking those that commit to our Climate Promise to set a public target to halve absolute GHG emissions by 2030, report openly on their progress, and share their emissions and footprint data with us. Together we can work towards ensuring a clean, healthy and sustainable environment that is a universal human right for everyone.

Taking action on climate change is taking action on human rights

Taking individual action begins by becoming informed on how your decisions impact the environment. Consider getting involved in your local community and finding out how you can make a difference at a local level.

For ideas on how you can help ensure a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, visit the Unilever Take Action Hub. You can also share your support for this right by adding your photo to a UN filter here and sharing it on social media using the hashtag #StandUp4HumanRights.

Unilever’s latest Human Rights report will be available in Q1 2022. Read about our progress in previous years here.