UNICEF and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
What is Corporate Social Responsibility and how does it relate to children?
CSR: an area of growth
In a general sense, CSR refers to a company’s responsibility when it comes to the impact of its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere.
A company’s commitment to CSR can be translated into a range of activities, like drawing up codes of conduct, participation in multiple stakeholder initiatives or developing policies and mechanisms for monitoring these codes. One example of the adoption of CSR in the DR is the ASONAHORES Code of conduct against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of children (CSE) for the hotel sector.
Hundreds of CSR initiatives are currently under way. Some focus on meeting standards, others are geared at sharing good practices, others deal with CSR social issues, while others focus on specific themes like environmental impact or supply chain management.
Almost all the CSR initiatives, although based on and in reference to international legal standards, are of an essentially voluntary nature.
The main CSR platform at United Nations level is the United Nations Global Pact, a CSR model developed by the UN that has emerged in the last few years as a central forum in the CSR debate. Launched in 2000, the UN Global Pact is a platform of policies and practices that seeks support from its corporate partners in order to ‘mainstream’ business principles that are focused on human rights, labour rights, environmental sustainability and actions aimed at fighting corruption.
The second main objective of the UN Global Pact is to catalyse the business community’s actions towards the wider UN aims, including the Millennium Development Goals.
With this aim, on 24 June 2010, to mark the occasion of a major meeting of business leaders organised by the United Nations, representatives of UNICEF, the Global Pact Initiative and Save the Children called on the business community to cooperate in establishing universal principles that place the rights of children and adolescents in a privileged position in the framework of global business responsibilities.
The business sector’s responsibility towards children and adolescents is being increasingly recognised. Currently, more and more companies are willing to take part in CSR actions that benefit children and the number of request that UNICEF receives from companies seeking our direct support for guiding their CSR actions absolutely confirms this trend.
Children are among the most vulnerable groups for the business sector, if we see them as subjects and members of a community as well as present-day and future consumers.
The business sector can have a positive as well as negative impact on children. For example, children and adolescents can benefit positively from the production and access of products made to increase their security, like car seats and other similar items, or products that can improve their social and cultural development, like educational books or the communications media and educational services.
However, children and adolescents and their rights can be seriously limited by companies that are not informed, are unaware of or fail to use a children’s rights perspective in their business conduct.
Children and adolescent rights can be violated during the course of the production process (e.g. child labour, direct contact with toxic waste, dangerous locations, etc.) or by the use or misuse of products made by these companies (e.g. dangerous toys and products that contain dangerous chemicals).
Companies can also affect children and adolescents in a more direct manner, such as inappropriate marketing or advertising practices, or indirectly, for example when a company does not provide childcare facilities to its staff’s children, or when a local community’s access to basic services is hindered by unscrupulous land management practices.
This is a graphic that depicts the impact that the business sector can have on children and adolescents.
As the business sector can have a strong effect on many aspects of children’s lives, companies must be seen to have a wide range of responsibilities in relation to children and adolescents’ rights.
The children’s rights perspective is still not present in the CSR global agenda, not even in the ongoing debate about business and human rights. A set of principles, guidelines or practical pointers is yet to be created in order to guide the business sector about the complete range of responsibilities and actions that they have in relation to children.
At UNICEF we are becoming increasingly conscious of the importance of CSR and the opportunities provided by partnerships with companies that are committed to CSR. Over the years we have achieved a great deal through alliances with these companies and initiatives like fundraising, strategic philanthropy and sales of products to support our programmes.
Traditionally, the debate about CSR and children has been mainly limited to the issue of child labour and the management of the supply chain, and up to a certain point, the issue of ethical marketing and advertising. If we look at some of the existing codes of conduct, for example, we can see that although most do refer to children, child labour is the only issue they deal with.
This situation is reflected in the way in which children and adolescents are almost always excluded from CSR initiatives at corporate level. Although there are some notable exceptions, child-focused CSR is usually peripheral to the corporations’ business, in many cases motivated solely by image considerations and basically lacking in a genuine children’s rights perspective and focus.
As a children’s rights organisation, UNICEF is well placed to tackle some of these issues and this is precisely where the organisation’s thinking and planning in relation to CSR is currently focused.
UNICEF and the Private Sector