Discussion paper series on children's rights and business in a digital world

Date: 22nd March 2017
Category: UNCRC Optional Protocols and General Comments

This series of discussion papers seeks to explore the relationship between children's rights, business and the Internet in greater detail than has previously been analysed.

While there is now a widely accepted public imperative to protect children from harm, abuse and violence online, there has been comparatively little consideration of how to empower children as active digital rights-holders.

At the same time, the rapidly expanding power and reach of the ICT sector have thrust communications and technology companies into key policy debates around the risks and opportunities children encounter online.

There is a need to explore these issues in more depth. The first of the series was published on March 10th and analyses protection of children's privacy online including recommendations for the ICT sector.


Privacy, Protection of Personal Information and Reputation Rights

This paper is the first in the series - it analyses the complex relationship between children's privacy and the internet. While the internet has the ability to emancipate children's autonomy and enhance independence, children's privacy can be undermined by a number of risks related to the collection and onward sale of their data and browsing habits, behaviour targeting and advertising, the use of biometrics, age verification and the mandatory use of identification, government surveillance and a variety of parental controls. This paper explores these risks to children's privacy online and puts forward the responsibilities of and opportunities for the ICT sector to respond to these risks.

Together's State of Children's Rights in Scotland report

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recognises that the business sector's impact on children's rights has grown in recent decades as a result of globalisation and market liberalisation. In 2013, the UN Committee published a General Comment on Business and Children's Rights. It outlines the essential role that businesses play in societies and economies to advance the realisation of children's rights, drawing on examples such as technological advances, investment and employment conditions. The UN Committee is also clear that business can have a negative impact on children's rights. The General Comment defines the general nature and scope of government obligations with regard to children's rights and business, and outlines a framework for implementation and dissemination.

Scotland: In response to the increasing recognition of the impact of business on wider human rights, in 2015 the Scottish Government commissioned a national baseline assessment. This will develop an evidence base for a Business and Human Rights Action Plan. This baseline assessment will be published in autumn 2016, and the consequent Business and Human Rights Action Plan will form part of the Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights.

United Kingdom: The United Kingdom's first National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights was published in 2013, setting out the UK's implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. As the NAP does not focus on children's rights, it fails to address the issues outlined in the UN Committee's General Comment on State obligations regarding the impact of the business sector on children's rights.

Important elements of the NAP reflect weak commitments rather than concrete human rights protection measures. While the NAP states that the UK Government expects companies to adopt due diligence policies to identify and prevent human rights risks, this is not a mandatory requirement. In addition, the UK Government has not created adequate safeguards to ensure that large public sector contracts are only awarded to businesses that commit to and report on due diligence regarding human rights, including children's rights. Instead, the NAP only states that the Government has sought to ensure that, in relation to procurement, 'human rights related matters are reflected appropriately when purchasing goods, works and services'.

Recommendation: Scottish Government should draw from the UN Committee's General Comment No. 16 in the development of the Scottish Business and Human Rights Action Plan. A framework should be put in place to ensure that all businesses are adequately regulated enabling them to respect children's rights by conducting human rights due diligence that considers the specific impact of business on children.