Liam Dowd sits down Dirk Jan de With of Unilever to discuss the upcoming issues and priorities in sustainable sourcing

Dirk Jan de With is the vice president of procurement ingredients and sustainability at Unilever. Dirk Jan has worked at Unilever for 25 years, in Supply Chain roles in Foods and HPC. Dirk Jan is also the President of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI).

As part of the knowledge exchange for this year's Sustainable Supply Chain Summit, we asked Dirk Jan to share his thoughts and priorities around the below questions...

Ethical Corporation: Tell us, in a sentence, what it is you do?

Dirk Jan de With: At Unilever I am Responsible for the procurement of Ingredients globally and for the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Sustainable Sourcing agenda.

Ethical Corporation: At your recent Partner to Win Supplier Summit Unilever stated that it’s looking to improve the lives of one million people, through influence over your extended supply chain. How are you looking to achieve this?

Dirk Jan de With: In September we started a strategic partnership with the NGO, Solidaridad.

The partnership will be focused on promoting gender equity, improving agricultural and labour practices as well as supporting young agricultural entrepreneurs and land management. It will be targeted at sustainably sourcing key agricultural raw materials (tea, cocoa, sugar, palm oil, fruit and vegetables, soy and dairy) in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Ethical Corporation: Could you please share how you intend on rolling out your environmental best practices?

Dirk Jan de With: If you take palm oil for example. Unilever significantly reduced (by half) complexity in its supply base.

Our first step is to get traceability back to all the palm oil mills we source from. This means that suppliers need to make transparent to us the exact mills the palm oil is coming from, so we can then make Unilever’s sourcing origin transparent.

Unilever has been engaging with our suppliers since the start of this year, to help them understand how we need to work together to transform the industry.

This has been through face to face workshops and meetings, to really help them understand the issues and now the majority of our supplies are fully on board with traceability.

We have also made the reduction in our supplier base no secret, so suppliers know that we are only working with companies that are committed to this.

Ethical Corporation: Do you have timeline and metrics in place to measure the success?

Dirk Jan de With: In addition, we will work with suppliers to develop individual time-bound plans that support our commitment. Our metrics are also available in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan annual report.

Ethical Corporation: What are the big issues to watch in 2015?

Dirk Jan de With: I think we will see a greater focus on climate issues, in particular how we protect and help our small scale farmers in terms of climate resilience.

Ethical Corporation: In your role as vice president of procurement ingredients & sustainability at Unilever, what are your priorities for 2015?

Dirk Jan de With: We have re organised our team so we have three areas of focus in Procurement that contribute to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Sustainable agriculture, enhancing livelihoods and eliminating deforestation from our supply chain. We also aim for industry wide cooperation as we cannot do this on our own.

Ethical Corporation: And finally, what will you being sharing at this year's Sustainable Supply Chain Summit?

Dirk Jan de With: I will be sharing how we are implementing our Responsible Sourcing Policy within Procurement.

This Responsible Sourcing Policy embodies our commitment to conduct business with integrity, openness, and respect for universal human rights and core labour principles throughout our operations.

We aim to improve the lives of workers, their communities and the environment consistent with the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. This Policy provides the framework through which we set out our responsible sourcing ambitions and approach.


Dirk Jan de With will be talking on value chain transparency, alongside senior execs at H&M and Intel, at the 9th Annual Sustainable Supply Chain Summit on 18-19 November.

The Summit will feature 30+ speakers outling ideas and methods to build a secure, responsible and resilient value chain. Some of brands speaking at the Summit include; PepsiCo, Unilever, M&S, Ericsson, Greenpeace, Intel, Rainforest Alliance, Fairphone, Mars and many more. For more information visit here

Sustainable Living Plan  sustainable sourcing  Unilever 

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