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Multi-year assessment of Unilever's progress towards agricultural sustainability II: Outcomes for peas (UK), spinach (Germany, Italy), tomatoes (Australia, Brazil, Greece, USA), tea (Kenya, Tanzania, India) and oil palm (Ghana)

Vis, JK and Walter, C (2008) 'Multi-year assessment of Unilever's progress towards agricultural sustainability II: Outcomes for peas (UK), spinach (Germany, Italy), tomatoes (Australia, Brazil, Greece, USA), tea (Kenya, Tanzania, India) and oil palm (Ghana).' International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 6 (1). 63 - 88. ISSN 1473-5903

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Abstract

The foods, home and personal care company, Unilever, is a large user of raw materials from agriculture, and a major buyer of goods on world markets. The continued supply of these materials is seen as an important component in the business's long-term success. The company has a long history of seeking to farm responsibly on company farms and for directly contracted raw materials, but it became clear that an approach based solely on suppliers' good agricultural practice would not safeguard supplies where increasing social and environmental pressures on agriculture were growing, or where increasing consumer concerns about the food chain could undermine markets and brands. Both threats suggested the need for a more radical approach. This resulted in the development of a mission statement, the agreement of four principles for sustainable agriculture, the identification of ten sustainable agriculture indicators (later 11), and the selection of five key crops the sustainable supply of which was significant to the company. This paper summarizes progress towards the sustainable supply of these crops by reporting on selected sustainability indicators for the crops (peas, spinach, tomatoes, tea and oil palm) in 11 countries. Some of the businesses using these products have been subsequently sold, but these are reported here because the aim is to explore how responsive are different indicators of sustainability to management action in different crops in widely differing locations. This paper focuses on a selection of findings for each of the 10 indicators, in order to illustrate the extent of changes that have been observed over time. These also indicate some of the difficulties faced in making improvements on the ground. The gathering of data on sustainability indicators is closely tied to the development of alternative practices that should quickly deliver improvements in a variety of outcomes. An assessment is also made of the key changes that have occurred for each of the main five crops as a result of adopting the sustainability indicator system and associated new management practices. Multi-year assessments were conceived as the way to understand and demonstrate progress towards more sustainable agriculture. The important developments were of systems that combined ensuring that agricultural suppliers performed to an acceptable set of criteria, and then had the capacity and willingness to identify the most critical areas where further progress was required. The challenge for the company is now to encourage others to adopt their approach to making supply chains more sustainable, both for their customers and the consumers of their branded goods. © 2008 Earthscan.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Science and Health > Biological Sciences, School of
Faculty of Science and Health > Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, School of
Depositing User: Jim Jamieson
Date Deposited: 07 Oct 2011 10:35
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2019 15:16
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/918

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