Children's Rights and Business Principles
The Principles provide a comprehensive framework for understanding and addressing the impact of business on the rights and well-being of children.
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Business interacts with children on a daily basis. Business impacts the wide range of children’s rights – well-beyond child labour. But it also has enormous power to improve the rights of children and protect them from harm through the way in which it treats employees, operates its facilities, develops and markets its products, provides its services, and exerts its influence on economic and social development.
But business can do more, especially for the most marginalized children. Despite the growth and increasing sophistication of corporate responsibility, corporate sustainability and the business and human rights agenda, children as stakeholders and their rights are still only rarely being addressed explicitly within the private sector.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) goes beyond philanthropy. Child-focused CSR contributes to sustainable development, including the health and the welfare of children. It also takes into account the expectations of children and their family as stakeholders. In order for the Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved, business must be fit for children.
CSR within UNICEF refers to efforts towards positively changing business behaviour and practices as they affect children, positioning business within a web of relationships and obligations, intergovernmental standards and agreements, governmental regulation and policy, supply chains, multi-stakeholder business platforms and other key business influencers.
Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No. 16 (2013) on State obligations regarding the impact of the business sector on children's rights outlines that all businesses must meet their responsibilities regarding children's rights and States must ensure they do so.
The goal of UNICEF’s children’s rights and business agenda is to promote the corporate responsibility to respect and support children’s rights in the workplace, marketplace and community in conjunction with the government duty to protect and safeguard children’s rights.
Building on the ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ framework, set out in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), UNICEF engages governments, companies and civil society to place children’s rights at the heart of the corporate social responsibility agenda.
UNICEF engages with business on children’s rights through global, regional as well as national frameworks, networks and initiatives. UNICEF makes available standards, tools and knowledge gained on CSR over time, on the basis of which individual companies can design their own internal policies and procedures that comply with child rights. UNICEF’s National Committees and country offices are building on thorough analysis and thematic priorities, including promoting legislation and regulatory frameworks for CSR at the country level.
UNICEF is taking an industry approach in its engagement with companies, as well working on cross-cutting issues such as global supply chains. Pilot projects within priority industries – with businesses, industry associations, UNICEF National Committees, UNICEF country offices and governments – are a key strategy to develop good practice, set precedents, promote the uptake of the children’s rights and business principles, and facilitate scale up.
The industry approach is not just about changing ‘bad behaviour’; it is also about having a strategic focus for a holistic engagement with targeted business to derive the maximum benefit for children. As businesses shift to a ‘shared-value’ approach in their core business models, they seek new opportunities to engage. There is potential to identify areas of common interest, and opportunities for business to contribute to results for children’s rights through core business activities, innovation, social investment, advocacy engagement, partnerships and collective action.
UNICEF is engaged in CSR work across the globe – here are some examples from different countries:
UNICEF Mali (by Katarina Johansson Mekoulou)
In Mali, children are everyone's business
Au Mali, les enfants sont l'affaire de tous [French]
UNICEF Thailand (by Mark Thomas)
Cross-sector collaboration brings huge benefits for Thai children
UNICEF Switzerland (by Ida Hyllested)
How to Walk the Talk of Respecting Children's Rights?
Les enfants sont l'affaire de tous [French]
UNICEF Malaysia (by Maya Faisal)
Why are children everyone's business?
UNICEF United Kingdom (by David Bull)
The business case for a more child focused approach to CSR is clear
Le milieu des affaires commence à reconnaître sa responsabilité et son rôle vis-à-vis des enfants et des jeunes [French]
UNICEF Madagascar (by Daniel Timme)
Assessing CSR in Madagascar
All children have rights, everywhere and at all times. All children's rights are equally important and interrelated. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) came into force in 1990 and articulates the basic, non-negotiable human rights that all children have. It is the most widely ratified human rights instrument in the world and is a core human rights treaty within the international human rights system. It recognises children as all those under 18 and represents a strong consensus and a shared agenda internationally on children's rights. Different States of course have different cultures, and legal, political and regulatory systems and States are given broad scope in terms of how they go about implementing the CRC domestically. However, the provisions of the CRC have been accepted by nearly all States, not just as aspirations, but as legally binding commitments for which they are held accountable.
Business policy and action can have a very significant impact - both positive and negative - on children's rights whether they are acting alone, through business partners or in concert with government agencies. This impact can be for example, through:
The CRC can serve as a valuable resource for companies seeking for information beyond the Children's Rights and Business Principles. Notably, the CRC:
The Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Fully revised third edition in PDF format - hard copy can be ordered here). This Handbook provides a record and analysis of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There are Implementation Checklists for each article. The Handbook includes the two Optional Protocols to the Convention, and their guidelines for reporting.
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.
As below, UNICEF has released tools for governments and other important stakeholders to understand how these obligations can be met in practice.
Obligations and Actions on Children's Rights and Business: A practical guide for States on how to implement the UN Committee on the Child's General Comment no. 16
Authors: UNICEF, International Commission of Jurists
Date: June 2015
How can governments make children's rights a reality when it comes to business? What can they do to require and encourage businesses to respect children's rights? This guide provides practical advice on how governments can make sure that all business activity respects children's rights through laws, policies, research, monitoring, awareness raising, and remedies. It highlights notable national, regional and international practices, and includes expert recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Children's Rights and Business Explained: A plain-language version of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child's General Comment no.16
Authors: UNICEF, Save the Children
Date: June 2015
What does the UN have to say about children's rights and business? This publication offers a reader-friendly version of international guidance on children's rights and business, and it a useful resource for governments, businesses and advocates. It explains complex legal content in plain language, and follows the same structure as the official text so that it can be read side-by-side. It also includes definitions of common legal and business terms, and describes other international standards on children's rights and business.
Children's Rights in National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights
Authors: UNICEF, Danish Institute for Human Rights, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)
Date: November 2015
This report provides guidance on how children’s rights can be addressed in National Action Plans (NAPs) on Business and Human Rights and other similar policies. It complements the existing “NAPs Toolkit” by the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR). The guidance outlines how children’s rights should be considered in the process of developing NAPs and what the content of focus should be when setting priorities for action on children’s rights.
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:
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 considered effective remedies 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 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 consultations. 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:
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 supported a webinar to consult with business and Save the Children organised 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.
Resources for business
UNICEF and ITU's: Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection
The Guardian Sustainability Hub: Children's Rights and Business
UNICEF Children's Rights and Business Pocket Guide
Beyond the Promotional Piggybank Child-Friendly Financial Products
Sustainability Reporting on Children's Rights
UNICEF CSR Working Paper
Child Safety Online, UNICEF 2011
Global challenges and strategies
Child labor - UCW Programme
Understanding children's work