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Children's Rights and Business Principles

© UNICEF Pacific/Jhing/2011/
UNICEF Pacific Representative Dr Isiye Ndombi Presents a gift pack to a Fiji Hibiscus princess contestant.

Children’s Rights and Business Principles

Opinion Editorial

by Dr Isiye Ndombi, UNICEF Pacific Representative

23 March 2012

 

There is asaying that “We did not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we rather borrowed it from our children.” This adage emphasizes that sustainable development must embrace inter-generational accountability – a moral, legal and economic sense of obligation to future generations. As we do business, generate employment and stimulate economic growth, we must ensure that the rights of children – the very future of our communities and countries – are fully protected.

As one looks around in the Pacific and globally, one realizes that while most of us care about children, we need a framework of principles and standards to guide us. Children are a legitimate mainstream business concern in any country.  They are consumers, family members of employees, potential targets of exploitation and future business people themselves.

In London last week, UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children officially released the Children’s Rights and Business Principles -the first comprehensive set of principles ever compiled to guide companies around the world to consider their impact on the rights and wellbeing of children in the workplace, marketplace, and community. The Principles sets out steps for businesses to integrate child rights into their operations and practical ways for every company to be a partner in advancing child and maternal health.

What do the Principles call on business to do?

 

Principle 1 is the operational principle and calls on business to meet their responsibility to respect children rights through core actions of policy commitments, due diligence and remediation measures.

 

The remaining nine Principles encourage business to implement these core actions by considering the impact on children of all their activities and their relationships to the workplace, marketplace, community and the environment. The principles are:

Principle 2:        Contribute to the elimination of child labour, including in all business activities and business relationships

 

Principle 3:        Provide decent work for young workers,

                        parents and caregivers

 

Principle 4:        Ensure the protection and safety of children in all business activities and facilities          

 

Principle 5:        Ensure that products and services are safe, and seek to support children’s rights through them

 

Principle 6:        Use marketing and advertising that respect

                        and support children’s rights

 

Principle 7:        Respect and support children’s rights in relation to the environment and to land acquisition and use

 

Principle 8:        Respect and support children’s rights in

                        security arrangements

 

Principle 9:        Help protect children affected by

                        emergencies

 

Principle 10:      Reinforce community and government efforts

                        to protect and fulfil children’s rights

 

What’s in it for business?

Children are not the only beneficiaries of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles. By respecting and supporting children’s rights, businesses also stand to be rewarded by:

 

  • Contributing to a stable and sustainable future:  It is in no one’s interests to do business in an environment where the potential of future generations of workers and consumers is compromised by child rights violations. The long-term sustainability of societies and markets relies in large part on nurturing healthy, skilled, well-educated and creative workers and consumers.

 

  • Improving workforce recruitment, retention and motivation: Providing a family-friendly environment for employees can improve recruitment, retention and loyalty. Adopting and implementing explicit child rights policies sends a strong signal to employees, the community and investors, serving as an indicator of good overall management.

 

  • Improving reputation management: By strengthening children’s rights a business strengthens its own reputation, which in turn helps attract consumers, investors, employees, suppliers and other business partners. Conversely, a company’s complicity in children’s rights abuses, such as harmful labour practices, can be seen as a failure of corporate governance and lack of proper risk management, potentially causing significant reputational damage.

 

  • Creating value for customers:  As current and future customers, children are important stakeholders of business. Companies that conduct due diligence regarding the impact of their activities on children and take every reasonable step to avoid curbing their rights will be more responsive to the demands of such consumers.  

 

What’s good for children is good for business

Protecting the rights of children is sound business practice. By incorporating children’s rights into strategy, operations and corporate culture, businesses not only strengthen their reputation and brand recognition; they also build their future workforce and broaden their consumer base.

In addition to adapting their own practices and policies, the Principles highlight that companies can make a very important contribution towards the realization of children’s rights by using their influence to help change societal attitudes, public policies and institutions.

Ultimately, respect and support for children’s rights in business will create healthy, strong communities as well as more sustainable and inclusive markets – both necessary conditions for the private sector to grow, thrive and prosper.

Monitoring and Implementation

 

The Children’s Rights and Business Principles provide a comprehensive framework for understanding and addressing the impact of business on the rights and well-being of children. They are intended to provide inspiration and a guidepost for all businesses in their interactions with children. The following should be noted:

 

·         The Principles do not create new international legal obligations; but are built on existing standards, initiatives and best practices relating to business and children.

 

·         Their value added is in providing a tool for business that can help them to take a systematic and comprehensive approach to their interactions with children and to more explicitly see children as a key stakeholder of their business.

Conclusion

While expansion of business investment into our communities and countries must be welcome, Pacific island governments and communities are encouraged to utilize the new framework in their upfront agreements and negotiations to ensure children’s rights are fully protected in every way. While I am aware that many Pacific national leaders have already been taking positive actions on behalf of children, the Principles are a great reference point for future action.

For companies investing in Fiji and other Pacific island countries, we encourage proactive steps to audit their current profiles against the principles and identify where improvements can be made. UNICEF will take steps to engage with and provide them with relevant tools.

 

 

 
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