Children are everyone’s business
By Zahidul Hassan
DHAKA, 10 July, 2012: “Many children like me work in the informal sector. They sometimes work in areas outside the city. They require some time to finish making the products. If their products are not delivered on time, then the retailers refuse to take their products. If this happens, the children are also mistreated by the owners,” says Bacchu,a 15-year-old boy,during a recent child rights-related consultation.
The consultation was held during the development process of Children’s Rights and Business Principles, a set of principles developed by UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children. The Children’s Rights and Business Principles is the first comprehensive set of principles to guide companies on the full range of actions that all businessesshould take to respect and support children’s rights.
According to Paul Hohnen, an independent consultant on sustainability, the Principles clearly identified all the key areas affecting children’s rights and are placed in one set of document which is compatible with the existing international legal commitments and statements around children’s rights. They are also in keeping with many international standardsincluding International Organization for StandardizationISO standards, The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporting guidelines which many companies follow. Therefore, businesses can use the Principles straightway by integrating it into their existing management system.
In order to introduce the Principles to the private sector of Bangladesh, a national workshop was organisedon “Children’s Rights and Business Principles” recently in Dhaka. Leadingmembers of the country’s private sector were present at the workshop. They learnt about the Principles in the opening session of the event where the Principles were presented along with a recorded speech from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
In his speech, the UN Secretary General mentioned that businesses have a tremendous impact on the lives of children. And children are an essential part of communities and environments in which businesses operate, as consumers, young workers, family members of employees and future business people themselves. Businesses increasingly recognise their responsibilityto respect the rights of the youngest members of our society. In addition, many have committed to supporting children and working with the governments and civil society to advance children’s rights. When it comes to children, we all need to do more.
Professor Syed Ferhat Anwar from Institute of Business Administration, Universityof Dhaka, delivered a keynote speech at the workshop. In his address he highlighted that “the CSR initiative undertaken by firms must be linked to their corebusiness to ensure an effective and sustainable business model. Furthermore, the planning must entailbuilding a value driven, healthy, educated, entrepreneurial and able population. This can never beattained without putting emphasis on collective children-driven approach”.
Highlighting the importance of upholding child rights, Chief Guest of the workshop, LatifurRahman says, “From a business perspective, there’s no competition between what is socially responsible and what is good for business. A responsible business ensures that products and services are safe for everyone. On the other hand, businesses should also receive support from government policies and regulations in order to protect child rights.”TheOslo Business for Peace Award 2012 winner and theVice Chairman of International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Bangladesh,Rahmanstressed on the importance of ensuring education of children so that they become more productive citizens of the country.
With reference to the importance of child rights and business ethics, UNICEF Representative Pascal Villeneuve says, “Child rights are an essential investment in our sustainable future. Human rights apply to all children. Safeguarding these rights helps build the strong, well-educated communities that are vital to creating a stable, inclusive and productive business environment.“
The group discussions that took place in the latter part of the workshop brought out some pertinent issues such as the importance of more awareness on children’s rights among the private sector actors as well as in the community.
Children should be made confident through proper training and programmes so that they are aware of their rights.The participants also highlighted the need for learning and documenting local case studies to demonstrate best practices from the localcontext in line with the Children’s Rights and Business Principles.
Speakers also underscored the need for continuous dialogue with the private sector as it would not be realistic to expect that the private sector will be able to adopt all the Principles at once. Therefore, it is important to continue dialogue with and among businesses and other key stakeholders about the Principles which will help to develop their conceptual clarity on the issueand create access to technical support for them to implement the Principles. It would also be necessary to collect good case studies as well as bad ones in order to address challenges in implementing the Principles, they observed.