10 Years of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles: Reflections on Lessons Learned and Emerging Trends Ahead
"Do not take advantage of us, we ask you to be responsible. Do not support us because you feel pity for us; instead support us because we deserve it. We purchase your products and services, but we ask you to invest in our development. We do not want gifts; we want you to be responsible.”
2022 marks the 10th anniversary of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (CRBP), jointly developed by UNICEF, the UN Global Compact, and Save the Children. The CRBP provide companies with concrete and specific guidance on how to prevent and address adverse impacts on children’s rights, as well as on how to support their advancement.
This anniversary offers the UN Global Compact Network UK, the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK), and Save the Children UK a unique opportunity to reflect upon the first ten years of implementation of the CRBP and look at the decade ahead. This is the first post in our ‘Children’s Rights and Business Principles’ blog series. It sets the scene for subsequent blog posts from guest contributors who will share their views on what lies ahead. We hope that this blog series will inspire a renewed commitment and a more integrated approach by business and their stakeholders to respect children’s rights in the UK and abroad.
The Children’s Rights and Business Principles
The CRBP were officially launched on 12 March 2012 as a result of an extensive consultation process. They call on the entire business community to avoid infringing upon – i.e., respect – and take voluntary actions to advance – i.e., support – children’s rights in the workplace, marketplace, community, and the environment. The ten CRBP are a guide for businesses to uphold the full spectrum of children’s rights through policy commitments, due diligence, remediation, and further actions.
Based on children’s rights international standards, the CRBP rest on the premise that businesses have enormous potential to impact the lives, wellbeing, and development of children, both positively and negatively, through their activities and business relationships. The private sector can play a crucial role in respecting and supporting
the rights of children, be they consumers, family members of employees, young workers, future employees and business leaders, or members of the communities in which companies operate.
The Business Case for Children’s Rights
Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), businesses have a responsibility to respect all human rights, including children’s rights.
By committing to and implementing the CRBP, companies not only take concrete steps to meet their responsibility to respect human rights, but also make a positive contribution to the realisation of the UN Global Compact’s Ten Principles, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and a more peaceful, just, and equal world for all.
In addition to this, taking responsibility for respecting and supporting children’s rights makes sound business sense. It translates into better risk management, increased business reputation, productivity, profitability, and competitiveness, and reduced cost burdens. Companies that integrate children’s rights into their activities and management can also improve recruitment, retention, loyalty, and performance of staff, and secure a ‘social license to operate’.
A Rapidly Changing Environment for Business and Children’s Rights
When the UNGPs were adopted in 2011, they were saluted as a revolution: people were finally put at the centre of business considerations. The CRBP, published the following year, went further and deeper by integrating children’s rights perspectives into companies’ behaviours and considerations.
In the first decade, the CRBP have offered companies valuable guidance on how to minimise their negative impacts on children and maximise the positive effects that their activities and business relationships may have on young people. Examples include efforts to the eliminate child labour, provide decent work for young workers, parents, and caregivers, and help protect children affected by emergencies such as armed conflict.
Today, after 10 years, we know that while examples of good practice have emerged, we are still far from the scale and pace of shift in corporate behaviour that is needed to ensure that businesses respect every child, everywhere. In addition, companies are confronted with new challenges, some of which pose unexplored questions and exacerbate existing issues for which progress is stalling. New frameworks and approaches with a fresh and reinvigorated commitment to the whole spectrum of children’s rights are needed for companies to be sustainable and remain relevant in the future economic and societal context.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its socio-economic impacts have had and will continue to have devastating consequences for children, as a result of a sharp rise in poverty, the deterioration in living standards and employment opportunities, school closures, and the pressure on public budgets. ILO and UNICEF’s estimates suggest that, without adequate mitigating measures, 8.9 million more children will be in child labour by the end of 2022. These dramatic figures call for urgent business action to tackle the worst forms of child exploitation, while also ensuring that children are not put at further risk of abuse.
Climate change can pose an unprecedented and disproportionate threat to the survival and rights of groups and individuals in vulnerable situations, including children. Research from UNICEF highlights that approximately 1 billion children are at an ‘extremely high risk’ of the impacts of the climate crisis, and without urgent action, this number will rise. Save the Children estimates that children born in 2020 will face on average 2-7 times more extreme weather events (heatwaves, flooding, droughts, crop failures, and wildfires) than their grandparents. Further, climate induced-migration and displacement can, together with other factors, lead to children being exposed to serious risks, including child labour. Finally, the measures taken to facilitate a ‘green transition’ and tackle the climate crisis can have severe negative impacts on children and the environment they live in. For example, the race for renewable energy and the raw materials used in it, such as lithium and cobalt, may drive more children into work and vulnerable living conditions. Despite the challenges, the private sector has a stake and responsibility in taking meaningful steps to address climate and human rights related vulnerabilities holistically and contribute to building business and societal resilience.
Developments in digital technology present multiple opportunities for children, as reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they can also expose children to new risks, such as online sexual exploitation and abuse as well as online harassment and cyberbullying, with a devastating and lasting impact on physical and mental health. This trend is alarming and businesses in the technology sector should ensure that their products and services are safe for children and respect their rights, including the right to privacy.
A body of mandatory Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence (mHREDD) legislation is rapidly growing in Europe and elsewhere, putting more pressure on and holding companies to account for ensuring responsible business conduct. The EU Commission’s Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence is expected to create a level playing field with regard to companies’ human rights and environmental due diligence obligations, building on mHREDD frameworks already in place in several EU countries, such as France and Germany. In the UK, both civil society and businesses have called for similar legislation to be introduced.
Children and young people have proved themselves to be powerful agents of change. They have led protests calling on world leaders to act on climate change and have demanded that companies adopt more sustainable and respectful practices. Young generations need to be part of businesses’ stakeholder engagement, and companies need to seek, listen to, and act on children’s views when business activities can have an impact on their lives and rights.
The Way Forward: Towards a New Decade of Business and Children’s Rights
The evolving legislative, socio-economic, and environmental context calls for a renewed and stronger commitment to children’s rights on the part of all societal actors – businesses, governments, and civil society – to make the world a better place for current and future generations to thrive and fully realise their rights.
The private sector has a crucial role to play in taking ambitious actions to respect and support children’s rights, by adopting, implementing, and integrating the CRBP into business strategies and actions. Investors, employees, consumers, and communities are increasingly aware of the unprecedented crises the world is currently facing and demand more sustainable and respectful actions by companies. To thrive, businesses will need to adapt to the evolving trends and challenges by considering the rights of children as key stakeholders. Integrating children’s rights into all business strategies, operations, products, and services, ensure companies invest in their business and future by contributing to creating an equitable world where no one is left behind.