"We are strongly encouraging people to get a vaccine as soon as it is available to them," CEO Alan Jope said in an interview at the Reuters Next conference.
Jope, whose company is one of Britain's biggest, said Unilever would do what it can to make vaccines available to its workers, but "in a very principled way".
For employees who decline the vaccine, rapid testing could be used to keep workplaces safe.
"We will not be mandating vaccines for anyone. We don't believe that is right," he said.
Unilever's office workers will be largely working from home during the current first quarter and then moving to a hybrid model where workers split their time between the office and home.
"We anticipate never going back to five days a week in the office, that seems very old-fashioned now," Jope said.
Unilever is testing a four-day work week this year in New Zealand.
ALAN JOPE: We will not be mandating vaccines for anyone. We don't believe that that is right. It's one thing to mandate that someone takes a test before they come into one of our facilities. It's a whole other thing to force someone to introduce something into their body. And so that would be a step too far. So we will be strongly encouraging, not mandating, and doing whatever we can to make sure that our people have access.
- Well, what will you do, though, for people that don't want to take it, who work in close quarters with others?
ALAN JOPE: Well, then, we'll use testing. So testing technology is moving forward very quickly. We already have well-developed protocols. For instance, our factories have kept running throughout the pandemic, and any time we noticed a pocket of COVID cases in a, factory we have a well-rehearsed shutdown and startup routine where we use testing as the way of providing entry. And we test not just our employees, but their families as well, where they want to. And we do require testing sometimes.
I think what we're assuming is that in Western Europe and North America, where most of our participants today are probably from, we are going to be more or less working from home-- office space workers will be working from home probably for most of-- all of the first quarter. And then, gradually, we'll shift to a hybrid mode of some time in the office, some time at home. And we anticipate never going back to five days a week in the office. That seems very old-fashioned now.