Accuracy and reliability of reported information is assured through our internal management and information systems, with each section approved by the relevant functional owner.
Our environmental reporting has been supported by independent external verification since we first started reporting in 1996 and our social report was formally verified for the first time in 2004. Our previously separate social and environmental reports were merged in 2005 and have included external assurance of selected key performance indicators (KPIs) since then. Some of the information we include in our sustainability reporting comes from our annual financial report and is therefore audited by our financial auditors.
In 2012 we appointed Pricewaterhouse-Coopers LLP (PwC) to provide independent assurance of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.
PwC’s scope of work was to provide limited assurance of a number of performance measures selected on the basis of their materiality to the Plan. The work included interviews with the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Steering Team and with the managers responsible for the data underpinning the eight measures selected for assurance. These measures covered: Lifebuoy; Pureit; salt; concentrated/compacted laundry products; ice cream freezer cabinets; One Rinse fabric conditioners; palm oil; and Shakti entrepreneurs.
PwC’s conclusion, together with Unilever’s Basis of Preparation for the reporting period 1 January - 31 December 2011, is available in our Publications archive [embedded link], alongside similar documents for limited assurance carried out by Deloitte on eight environmental manufacturing and two occupational safety performance indicators for the period 1 January - 31 December 2011.
PwC’s conclusions have been shared with the Unilever Leadership Executive, the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Steering Team and those responsible for the indicators. We are acting upon PwC’s recommendations and the lessons learned are helping to inform our future work.
The findings from the first year of assurance of the Plan’s metrics have provided valuable insights, for example on identifying appropriate risk assessment processes for data preparation and reporting, and improving the documentation and replicability of calculations. The findings also prompted us to review and strengthen our governance.
To allow our sustainability reporting to be published at the same time as our Annual Report and Accounts 2011, we presented preliminary data for some of our environmental and occupational safety performance indicators at the end of April 2012. Final data has been published since and with the publication in April 2013 of the online Unilever Sustainable Living Report for 2012, data has been updated with 2012.
Assurance to 2020
For the future assurance of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, starting with the period 2012, we have developed a phased approach to 2020 that will enable us to obtain assurance over the seven commitments which are central to our Plan.
In the transition to assuring the seven commitments, underlying metrics supporting each commitment will be selected on the basis of criticality, following a detailed internal assessment. Our definition of criticality includes the following factors:
- materiality – the importance of the metric’s contribution to the commitment
- maturity – the metric’s stage of development
- proximity to target completion.
Although our environmental indicators for manufacturing and our occupational health and safety indicators do not directly contribute to the achievement of our seven commitments, we consider them crucial for our business and they will always be assured. In addition, we recognise that the need may sometimes arise for external assurance of specific metrics, such as those with a higher reputational risk.
Unlike financial accounting standards or carbon reporting, there are currently no industry norms or globally recognised practices for evaluating many of the targets in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. It is groundbreaking work that will evolve over the coming years.
The results of PwC’s second year of assurance will be published here in mid-2013.