State Obligations Regarding the Impact of the Business Sector on Children’s Rights

GC16 snip

It is important for States to have in place well-functioning child-focused governance structures and mechanisms which ensure that children's rights are not 'left behind' and over shadowed by consideration of business interests. In February 2013, the Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted General Comment 16 on State obligations regarding the impact of the business sector on children's rights, to which countries will be held accountable for ensuring that children's rights are protected in business activities.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its State Parties. All States parties are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on how the rights are being implemented. States must report initially two years after acceding to the Convention and then every five years. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of "concluding observations".

The Committee also publishes its interpretation of the content of human rights provisions, known as general comments on thematic issues and organizes days of general discussion.

The drafting, consultation and adoption process

In 2011 the Committee on the Rights of the Child (Committee) decided to begin drafting a General Comment on child rights and the business sector. It is the first UN human rights treaty body to prepare a General Comment on this issue and the main objective is to assist States parties in meeting their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) by:

- Providing them with conceptual guidance on the nature of their obligations under the Convention with regards to the business sector - for example what does the State duty to protect child rights from violations by business enterprises mean?  What are the obligations of State-owned enterprises?;

- Elaborating on how the four guiding principles of the CRC are relevant in this context; and

- Proposing practical guidance on the measures of implementation States parties should have in place to respect, protect and fullfil child rights with regards to business - these include legislation, regulation and policy but also administrative measures as well as awareness-raising and collaboration.

Following several exchanges with the Committee, it was decided that UNICEF would support the research on the topic of the state obligations to prevent and remedy violations of children’s rights by business. An additional piece of research considers effective remedy for corporate violations of children’s rights.

The first expert meeting to explore the scope of the future General Comment took place in Geneva on 16 September 2011. At this occasion, UNICEF presented a summary of the above research on state responsibility. The Committee was positively impressed by this presentation and requested further support from UNICEF which has taken the form of a document scoping the General Comment to delivered in December 2011.

An outline of the central issues to be addressed in the General Comment was then developed for on-line and in-person consultation.  A total of 26 online submissions have been received from a diverse range of organisations including IBFAN, ILO, Amnesty International, the Institute of Employers and ECPAT International. 

A multi-stakeholder consultation took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina in March 2012 to get feedback on this outline.  The participants were from the private sector, State and civil society and included AmCham Argentina, Telecom, National Ministry of Tourism, Centre for Justice and International Law, RED and IOM.  Many issues were discussed including the importance of family-friendly workplaces to support the realization of the rights of children, the need to educate business about their responsibilities towards children's rights and the urgent requirement for children to have access to justice when their rights are violated by business.  It was felt that the outline lacked sufficient emphasis on the right to non-discrimination, particularly for girls.  It was also felt that the General Comment should aim to create a level playing field so that increased State regulation of business does not inhibit their competitiveness globally.  This discussion was followed immediately by a consultation by MERCOSUR representatives who endorsed the outline. 

A further consultation was held in Delhi, India in April 2012 with participants from civil society organisations including IBFAN, Mobile Crèches and Global March.  Donors such as GIZ were also present along with business associations such as the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.  The consultation included extensive discussion of State obligations in the context of public-private partnerships and business sector delivery of services that are essential to child rights (education, water etc).  There was also discussion of how States performance in protecting children from corporate violations could be measured and evaluated and what sort of indicators could be used.

A first draft of the General Comment was developed and put out for public consultation with a deadline of 24th August 2012.  This draft was disseminated via:

- the CRC

- the CRIN

- the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre 

Additionally, CRIN and the BHRC included the Call for Submissions in the forthcoming editions of their respective newsletters.

This first draft was discussed and finalized at a meeting in Geneva of the Working Group on the General Comment on Child Rights and the Business Sector which met in June 2012. The first draft incorporated recommendations, where appropriate, from on-line submissions, that were made in response to an outline of central issues.  It also incorporated feedback from multi-stakeholder, in-person consultations held in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Delhi, India.  For more information on the consultation process, including all of the on-line submissions and reports from the in-person consultations, please visit the OHCHR page.

A final face-to-face consultation on the first draft of the General Comment took place in Nairobi, Kenya in August 2012. UNICEF also be supported a webinar to consult with business and Save the Children is organising consultations on the draft with children.

After a final round of discussions within the Working Group, as well as a conference in October 2012 in Sion, Switzerland, the General Comment was finalized in February 2013.