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Business urged to push children’s rights further up CSR agenda

May 2013

New research from UNICEF and Ipsos MORI shows that while more than two-thirds of UK businesses interviewed think that responsibilities to children will become more important to UK companies over the next five years, 89% do not currently include children’s rights among their main corporate responsibility issues. 
 
Four in 10 companies interviewed say that children’s rights and children’s welfare is not an issue they address to any great extent in their corporate responsibility activities. Only 11% include children’s rights and children’s welfare among their main corporate responsibility issues, with a further 29% saying it is an issue they address alongside several others.
 
“In the developing world, half the population is children; in the developed world it’s a third. It is a very large stakeholder group,” Vicky Edmonds, head of partnership development and CSR expert, UNICEF UK told Ethical Performance. “And if you look at many CSR reports, there are plenty of family pictures but no mention of children.” 
 
The research has been released one year on from the launch of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (developed by UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children), the first comprehensive set of principles to guide companies on the actions they can take in the workplace, marketplace and community to respect and support children’s rights.
 
By taking the principles into account, businesses can build robust, sustainable businesses, maintains Edmonds. “What we’ve found is that if a business uses children as a lens for viewing their business model, then they begin to see gaps in their strategies. For example, one company was addressing children’s rights in store, in the workplace and in its supply chain but through three different parts of the business. By bringing the focus together, they found they were more effective.”
 
Companies see the risk element with regard to children’s rights, says Edmonds, but getting them to understand the wider, deeper impact is a challenge: “It’s not just about child labour issues these days. For example in the UK, businesses can examine how they market to children; retailers can examine how robust they are in dealing with children in store.”
 
UNICEF is currently piloting a range of business tools with an number of companies around the world which will help to remediate the subject of children’s rights. 
 
The tools – an Impact Assessment Tool, Reporting Tool and a workbook – will be available generally before the end of the year.
 
Swedish furniture retailer IKEA is one of the companies trialling the tools. It is also Unicef’s largest corporate donor. Greg Priest, Head of Sustainability Policy, IKEA, told Ethical Performance: “It is a very thorough document. It gives an outside eye on your business, especially when you feel you’ve ‘done everything’. It goes through all the processes.”
 
“Implementing the UN Principles aren’t the challenge – they are very user-friendly – the challenge is to get them into a long-term process. To integrate them into a daily business routine. The challenge for IKEA in sustainability now is not about measuring and reducing its negative impact, but about having a positive impact.”
 
“The commercial benefits of applying the Principles is in gaining insight into your supply chain and thereby developing a more sustainable supply chain. It also impacts on our value chains, thereby building trust in IKEA as a brand. Simply, if, as a business, you’re looking at the child’s point of view, you are going to improve your business.”
 
Priest is keen to advocate the business model to others. “We’re not about showing that we’re being better than others. It’s about taking that first step and encouraging others to do so. There’s good support out there. Business should use it,” he said.



Unicef | Global | Children's Rights

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