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Helping business support children’s rights

This Monday saw the launch of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles, the culmination of a historic collaborative project between Save the Children, UNICEF and the UN Global Compact.

The principles lay out, for the first time, the things that businesses can and should do in order to respect and promote children’s rights.

  1. Meet their responsibility to respect children’s rights and commit to supporting the human rights of children.
  2. Contribute to the elimination of child labour, including in all business activities and business relationships.
  3. Provide decent work for young workers, parents and caregivers.
  4. Ensure the protection and safety of children in all business activities and facilities.
  5. Ensure that products and services are safe, and seek to support children’s rights through them.
  6. Use marketing and advertising that respect and support children’s rights.
  7. Respect and support children’s rights in relation to the environment and to land acquisition and use.
  8. Respect and support children’s rights in security arrangements.
  9. Help protect children affected by emergencies.
  10. Reinforce community and government efforts to protect and fulfil children’s rights.

The Children’s Rights and Business Principles: the good…

There are some things I really like about the principles. Principle 1 really puts some meat on the bones of the idea that business must ‘first do no harm’; it lays out specific steps businesses must take to respect children’s rights, including making a policy commitment and – more importantly – doing due diligence to identify any actual and potential impact the business might have on human rights in all parts of its operations.

I like that the principles address a wide range of ways in which businesses impact on children’s rights, including by providing decent work for parents and care-givers, and through their impact on the environment and land acquisition.

This is really pushing the debate beyond where it has often been stuck in the past, with some people struggling to see beyond the more direct issues such as child labour.

I also particularly like that principle 10 is about not undermining government efforts to protect and fulfil children’s rights, including a very specific mention of the payment of taxes.

… and the bad

On the downside, colleagues have raised concerns that the language in principle 2, which talks about the ‘elimination of child labour’, isn’t nuanced enough.

The last thing we want is for companies to make rash decisions to cut suppliers out of their supply chain out of the fear of child labour rather than working collaboratively with suppliers to address the root causes of why children end up in work.

The devil is in the detail

As with any of these initiatives, the real work comes now, when we begin to work with companies and governments on the details of how to implement the principles and ensure that they make real change to the way businesses operate.

In my next blog, I’ll talk more on the launch event itself.

Anyone interested in learning more can get in touch with me at a.holder@savethechildren.org.uk and also visit the Guardian’s new online information hub called Children: The Next Business Agenda


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