Integrating Children’s Rights in the IKEA Business
It’s been 10 years since UNICEF, Save the Children, and the UN Global Compact launched the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (CRBP), a framework that has played a fundamental role in putting children’s rights on the agenda for business. As we reach this milestone, it seems appropriate to take a moment to reflect, take stock of what has been achieved, and look ahead to what is needed for the coming decade.
The CRBP introduced the concept of adding a child rights lens to human rights due diligence processes. At the time, the notion of human rights due diligence had recently been introduced with the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The idea of an added children’s rights perspective encompassing all aspects of a business’s operations was completely unexplored for companies, IKEA included.
Looking back on our journey with the Children’s Rights and Business Principles
IKEA was one of the businesses that took part in the extensive consultation process leading up to the launch of the Principles. The inclusive nature of this process ensured that the outcome was something that companies could relate to and work with, in their different realities. In IKEA, we have had a long-standing commitment to children, building on our work to tackle child labour in the supply chain in the 1990s and the work with our product development of the children’s range, where we have a strong focus to ensure that our products are not only safe for children but also contribute to their development and learning. Being a brand for families, the focus on children is a natural part of our identity. However, following the launch of the CRBP, we made a more outspoken commitment to respecting children’s rights and integrating a child rights perspective into our business practices.
Taking stock of our own journey so far, we are proud and happy with our achievements and the experiences we have gained. We remain focused on tackling key risks for children, such as child labour, by accelerating our efforts and working in partnerships with an ambition to address root causes and stretch actions further down our supply chain. We are deeply concerned by the reversed trend in child labour shown in global estimates, in spite of all the efforts made for decades. Despite this being an issue that we have been actively working on for many years, we realise we must speed up. Concrete and bold actions are required if we, as a global society, want to be able to tackle this critical issue successfully.
To keep children safe is also the key focus of our child safeguarding agenda. As a global business, we interact with children in various ways, online and offline, and we have a responsibility to ensure their safety and wellbeing in these interactions. No matter if it is about us hosting events where children are present, engaging child models in our communication, or having children visiting our stores or facilities, we have a responsibility to have routines in place to keep them safe. Our journey to strengthen child safeguarding practices began with awareness-raising activities and training with key stakeholders to build competence on the topic. We also undertook an internal mapping exercise to better understand our interactions with children across the business. This process helped us identify the need for a stronger approach to the child safeguarding agenda as well as the need for investing in further competence development. Today we have put key policies in place and are soon rolling out an IKEA global training module to raise awareness with co-workers. Nonetheless, we recognise that we have much more work to do to establish a robust system. Our efforts on child safeguarding remain an integral part of the foundation of our children’s rights agenda.
We also continue our efforts to advance children’s rights, for example, by promoting the right to play through our product range and communication. In recent years, we have also paid increasing attention to the indirect impacts on children by our own business. We continue to explore how to further integrate a family-friendly perspective into our work on responsible wage practices and our equality, diversity, and inclusion agenda. We foresee that our efforts on family-friendly practices will need to grow in the near future. As a global business, we need to consider how we build resilience into our system through our co-workers, who are often also parents and caregivers. It has been evident during the multi-year pandemic and taking into account the geopolitical instability in the world, that we have an important role to play as an employer in providing stability for co-workers and people in our value chain. We will continue to explore what we can do further as we strengthen our efforts in our broader sustainability agenda.
Looking into the coming decade of implementation
Looking ahead to the next decade of children’s rights and business, we are convinced that there has not been a time more pivotal for business to demonstrate responsibility for their impact on people, and in particular on vulnerable groups, including children.
The concept of human rights due diligence is today well established, with the UNGPs recognised as the global normative framework for business responsibility in relation to respecting human rights. The level of expectation is higher than perhaps ever before. Increasingly, the debate is weighing towards more mandatory measures to prompt business action, with the newly presented Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence (CSDD) proposal in the EU as the latest addition to this trend. IKEA welcomes this development and supports the idea of a ‘smart mix’ of measures needed as introduced by the UNGPs. We believe that due diligence can make a significant difference for people and the planet by helping businesses embed sustainability into their governance and decision making, including enabling awareness and action to address impacts on vulnerable groups such as children. In this context, we support well-designed, harmonised legislation across the EU on human rights and environmental due diligence, which covers the full range of adverse impacts on children.
The concept of adding a child rights lens to human rights due diligence practices remains as relevant today as when the CRBP was published. From the 10 years that have passed, we have learned in IKEA that it requires a continuous effort from the whole business to apply a holistic children’s rights perspective in all parts of the value chain. As the contexts we are operating in continue to develop, so does the need for us to be alert and strengthen our approach to addressing human rights and child rights risks and impacts.
Looking into what the future holds, a key next step on our child rights agenda will be to strengthen the integration with other key sustainability movements we are driving, such as our transformation to a circular business and our climate agenda. Understanding the interlinkages and unintended consequences that arise as we transition to a more sustainable society, we believe, will be critical moving forward. This includes understanding the root causes of inequality to be able to tackle critical child rights issues more effectively. In an ever-changing society and with rapidly advancing technology, new topics will continue to emerge such as children’s rights and ethical consideration in the digital space, an area where we have just started our exploration.
The CRBP continue to provide both a strong foundation and be a guiding light for all businesses, no matter where they are on their journey. We remain humble and dedicated to the continuous efforts needed in realising our commitment to integrating children’s rights into everything we do.