Changing behaviour over children’s rightsJuly 2013
Companies interact with children on a daily basis, although often this is neither directly nor purposefully. Children are workers in their factories and fields, family members of their employees, and community members in the neighbourhoods where they operate. In many countries, children are increasingly recognized as a consumer group themselves, with discretionary income to spend and increased influence on family purchases. They are a market force to be reckoned with, but nonetheless need protection.
Even while business and human rights discourse has evolved significantly, children have not been adequately considered by business as a key stakeholder group. A business focus on children’s issues is often relegated to eradicating the practice of child labour, or to investing in local community initiatives that support children. The past few decades have indeed seen greater corporate commitments to cleaning up global supply chains in order to eradicate the use of underage workers. Yet the need goes beyond child labour considerations.
Morals aside, there is good reason for companies to pay attention to their impacts on children’s rights. Exclusion of a holistic child rights lens within corporate human rights initiatives can create a number of risks for business, not least reputational risks from stakeholder allegations of direct or indirect violations of children’s rights; legal risks from lawsuits for alleged violations; financial risks from mishandling children’s rights within business operations; security risks from failing to earn the company’s social license to operate; and market share risks from consumer action on lack of attention to child protection. Furthermore, governments are increasingly likely to implement policies that govern business’ respect for children’s rights.
Recognising a need for explicit guidance about what it means for business to respect and support children’s rights, the UN Global Compact, Save the Children and UNICEF – together with companies and other stakeholders – released a set of 10 Principles on Children’s Rights and Business (‘the Principles’) in March 2012. Building upon the UN Guiding Principles, the Principles identify a comprehensive range of actions that all business should take to prevent and address risks to children’s rights and maximize positive business impacts in the workplace, marketplace and the community.
In February, UNICEF began a three-month consultation and pilot process to review and begin implementing the Principles. Participating companies are reviewing the Children’s Rights Checklist – an impact assessment tool; the UNICEF Workbook - Children are Everyone’s Business and the Reporting Guidance to embed children in sustainability reporting. Following the pilot, UNICEF will release the tools and make them publicly available.
Amaya Gorostiaga, CSR unit, UNICEF’s private fundraising & partnerships division
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