Private sector engagement
UNICEF engages actors in the private sector to encourage and support the use of their tremendous influence to scale, accelerate and sustain the achievement of UNICEF’s Goal Areas and deliver results for all children
South Asia has a large and vibrant business sector, serving over 1.8 billion people – or about one fourth of the world’s population – including more than 625 million children. Supply chains link companies small and large reach across multiple countries, meaning economic and business practice decisions taken in one country have significant consequences in many others.
Deepening inequality is now recognized as a major contemporary social challenge on the regional and the national levels, with wide-ranging policy implications for both governments and business. Even in the context of globalization, the bulk of business activity remains oriented towards domestic markets. However, transnational business activity has significant impact on national business contexts. The power within global supply chains is asymmetric, with end-buyers dominating. This results in risks being displaced onto lower level suppliers, often small- and medium-size enterprises, and ultimately onto workers and by extension their families.
Businesses directly and indirectly impact children’s right to quality health care and nutrition, access to education, protection from harm and exploitation, and safe, clean water and sanitation. Due to the scope and influence of their operations, businesses have the power to do immense harm – or remarkable good – for children now and in future generations.
More than 90 per cent of businesses in South Asia are informal, and over 80 per cent of all workers are employed informally. The majority of businesses are micro-, small- and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs) that are largely part of the informal economy. This means that most workers, many being women, are not entitled to employee or work-contingent benefits, protection and services. This reality has a serious impact on their children.
In the wake of COVID-19, South Asia’s informal sector – which primarily employs migrant workers – will disproportionately suffer from the pandemic’s impacts. Many millions of migrant workers and their families are highly exposed to the health and economic consequences of the crisis, but due to low levels of financial inclusion and limited employment and social protection, they are harder to reach.
 Bussolo, Maurizio, Siddharth Sharma and Hans Timmer, ‘COVID-19 Has Worsened the Woes of South Asia's Informal Sector’, World Bank Blogs, 7 December 2020, https://blogs.worldbank.org/endpovertyinsouthasia/covid-19.
 Dalberg, Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on MSMEs in South Asia and East Asia Pacific in Relation to Child Rights: Final report, UNICEF ROSA and UNICEF EAPRO, February 2021. (Sharepoint link, requires login).
Since 2020, major strides have been made to work on and with the world of business – seeking to influence business practices, responsible conduct, investments, core assets and resources.
Towards this end, UNICEF is building stronger relationships with our current partners and opening new opportunities to engage new actors in informal or sensitive settings. Working together, we seek to influence industry standards and business practices, foster behavioural change and a culture of shared purpose, and strengthen systems for quality service delivery and accountability.
UNICEF integrates business stakeholders and engagement into its overall strategy in South Asia and works across sectors to engage with businesses directly, but also with government and other international organizations to influence business behaviours and standards.
Because business activities take place in a larger ecosystem – encompassing many different institutions, standards, laws and platforms – we understand the tremendous value of working with business grounded in a systems perspective.
How are businesses impacting children’s rights? And what can interested stakeholders do today to have a real-world impact? This list represents just a small selection of resources produced by UNICEF and our partners in South Asia as we work together to create systemic change that will bring results for all children:
Last update: September 2021