Calls for child rights to be priority for states and businesses

Date: 11th April 2014
Category: UK 1st periodic review

At the Global Child Forum in Stockholm on 11th April 2014, a survey on "Children's Rights and the Corporate Sector" provided a wake-up call for children's rights and business.

The survey found that of the over 1000 companies assessed, a third do not yet have a policy on child labour. And only 24% address other children's rights issues. Of those "other" issues, the most commonly referred to is product safety with regards to children (14% of the companies). The least referred to were security in conflict areas (2%), and supporting children affected by community displacement (only 1%).

There is clearly a long way to go before a critical mass of companies take children's rights seriously. And some of the most serious and widespread corporate impacts on children - such as displacement for industrial projects - are being woefully ignored.

As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said at the Forum, "children's rights need to be a priority for every state and every business". She outlined the many ways business activities can affect children's rights, from environmental pollution that harms their health, to the marketing of products like cigarettes and unhealthy foods. From poorly-paid miners working for months at a time separated from their children, to companies forcing employees to work long hours which means older children find themselves providing care for their younger siblings.

Another major theme running through the Forum was the way that increased access to digital technology - while empowering children in many ways - also puts them at greater risk of sexual and other forms of exploitation. To help address these risks, the International Telecommunications Union and UNICEF are currently developing "Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection."

Governments now have now have little excuse to ignore business impacts on children's rights. In 2013 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted "UN General Comment no. 16" which clearly sets out their duties in this area. Increasing expectations are coming from civil society as well. For example, World Vision International is currently calling on all G20 governments to use their purchasing power to eliminate child labour in their procurement chains.

For companies, Save the Children, UNICEF and the UN Global Compact have developed the Children's Rights and Business Principles.

It is hoped that the combined forces of the Global Child Forum 2014, the UN General Comment no. 16 and the Children's Rights and Business Principles will galvanise greater action by governments and companies alike - and soon.