Placing children first in business
By Wivina Belmonte
UNICEF Representative, Malaysia
KUALA LUMPUR, 16 September 2012 – In Malaysia, as around the globe, we have seen a significant rise in the number of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts initiated in the private sector. CEOs of large companies, senior management of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), government-linked companies, public-listed companies and private firms have been quick to implement initiatives that benefit communities and social groups. In fact, the Malaysian government has been instrumental in promoting and underlining the crucial role of CSR to the country's growth, with initiatives like the Bursa Malaysia CSR guidelines for public-listed companies and the annual Prime Minister's CSR Award.
Yet, while an increasing number of businesses are developing CSR strategies, few of them make explicit reference to the particular needs, challenges and rights of children and young people. Almost every activity a business undertakes has an impact in some way on children's lives and livelihoods, whether through employment practices, supply chains, product safety, marketing practices or through their impact on the environment. Most annual CSR reports make little or no mention to children.
There are approximately 9.5 million children under the age of 18 in Malaysia. Children and young people are key stakeholders in almost all businesses, as current and future customers. The millions of people who are their parents and families are an equally important constituency. Companies that place children first in business and take every reasonable step to uphold their rights through the business process, will be seen as more responsive to the demands of their consumers and employees.
In order to support the private sector in developing child-focused CSR initiatives worldwide, UNICEF together with UN Global Compact and Save the Children, has drafted The Children's Rights and Business Principles. With the support of the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM), the Principles have been introduced in Malaysia – the first country in South East Asia to do so.
The Principles call on the business community to commit to recognising children and their families as key stakeholders, being respectful of children's needs, protecting the environment as a space for children, protecting children during emergencies, supporting efforts to uphold children's rights and publicly reporting on progress made in implementing the Principles.
The moral argument is clear – creating a world fit for children is everyone's business – its right in principle. The business argument is equally compelling. Investing in child-focused CSR has proven to be good business. So, it's right in practice, too.
Recent research demonstrates that businesses that focus on children within the workplace, marketplace and community, throughout their value chain, have improved staff retention and have more engaged employees. These businesses face less reputational risk and build trust from customers, employees and shareholders.
By focusing on children and supporting their rights, businesses are creating a more stable and sustainable future, creating new and expanding markets for products and services, educating their next workforce, influencing tomorrow's campaigners and consumers, and enhancing their brand and reputation.
(We urge businesses to consider child-focused CSR as a kind of enlightened self-interest – to see it as an investment, not a cost, and to view CSR as a crucial element of their businesses. Through strategic collaboration, companies can help support programmes and initiatives vital to children that also make business sense in the short and long term.
With the launch of the Principles, for the first time ever, a comprehensive set of guidelines exists to provide a holistic approach to children.
So, when asked the question, 'why children first in business?', the answer is simple. The world is young. Placing children first today protects your business future tomorrow.
This OpEd was published in The China Press and The Star.
For further information, please contact:
Indra Kumari Nadchatram,
UNICEF Media, Malaysia
(+6.03) 2095 9157
+6012 292 6872
UNICEF Media, Malaysia
(+6.03) 2095 9154 ext. 2236
+6012 658 5160