Among the principles developed by Save the Children, UN Global Compact and Unicef are responsibilities such as working to eliminate child labour.
Photo: Laurent Duvillier
Ten business principles will safeguard children’s interests
Companies impact children on many levels – in the workplace, through their supply chain, in the market place and at the community level. They provide jobs, services and products, but they can also have an adverse affect.
When you buy a pair of jeans, children might have been working in the fields collecting the cotton. The chemicals used to dye the fabric can cause degradation of children’s local environment and put their health at risk. Many of the workers in the garment factories have migrated from the countryside and left young children behind in the care of relatives. And the marketing of the finished product could contribute to the sexualisation of children.
The impact that businesses have on children is often different from the effect they have on adults. Children are smaller and absorb a higher percentage of pollutants. When children work they often work illicitly, why they are more invisible than adults. The effect is sometimes indirect, as children are dependent on their parents and affected by their employment situation.
This is why Save the Children Sweden together with the UN Global Compact and Unicef has developed ten Principles for Child Rights and Business that were launched in 2012. Because despite the many international initiatives on corporate social responsibility (CSR) that have been developed over the last few years, none of them fully embrace the impact of businesses on children's rights.
“Our goal is for children to enjoy better lives as more companies look to the situation of children when they plan their operations,” said Mattias Forsberg at Save the Children Sweden.
Among the principles are responsibilities such as working to eliminate child labour, ensuring that products are safe for children to use, employing marketing techniques that respect children, and considering children’s rights in relation to the local environment.
“It is easy to get caught up in a traditional view of children’s rights in regard to companies: harmful child labour in developing countries. Of course that is an important part but you have to remember that only one of the ten principles has to do with child labour”, said Mattias Forsberg.
Respecting children’s rights in a workplace, for example, could mean having family-friendly policies that make it possible for parents to spend time with and take care of their children as well as making sure that young workers aren’t put at risk by a hazardous working environment. Many times the greatest risks for children can be found in a company’s supply chain where child labour, trafficking of children and other types of exploitation are more widespread.
Now Save the Children Sweden has launched a Sida-supported programme to reach and involve as many companies as possible. The goal is to incorporate these responsibilities into already existing reporting mechanisms for corporate social responsibility, such as Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative.
“Thousands of companies are already using those systems, so this way we can get all of them onboard at once. That is an efficient way of reaching scale”, said Mattias Forsberg.
Save the Children Sweden will also raise awareness and build capacity among both businesses and governments about how companies affect children and what they can do to embed respect for children at every level of their work. A strong focus will be companies in developing countries in Africa, Latin America, southern Asia and China. Tools, checklists and training materials will be developed and together with a number of multi-national companies Save the Children will create a replicable child rights model to be used by businesses.
“We also want to reach investors, such as pension funds, since they can have a huge impact on companies they invest in, as well as sector organizations and regional networks who can influence many businesses”, denoted Mattias Forsberg.
Save the Children Sweden’s Child Rights