Consideration of the rights of children should be integral to any Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) strategy or policy. Traditionally, companies have focused on reducing and eliminating the use of child labor in their supply chains as a means of protecting the rights of children. While important, companies should keep in mind that respecting and protecting children’s rights extends far beyond the use of child labor. A robust CSR strategy should reflect a comprehensive understanding of the many ways by which businesses may adversely impact children’s rights. Developing and implementing strategies or policies to protect the rights of children can improve a company’s reputation and reduce its risk of liability.
From a human rights perspective, violations of children’s rights can have severe and long-lasting impact on child development in a way that violations of the rights of adults might not. For example, any impact on access to clean water, sanitation, food, or health care can negatively affect a child’s growth and development in a way that can linger long past childhood. Companies can impact access to these necessities essential for childhood survival and development in various ways, such as through the acquisition of land or business activities that result in environmental degradation and contamination.
UNICEF, the UN Global Compact, and Save the Children developed the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (the “Principles”). The Principles “call on business to respect and support children’s rights throughout their activities and business relationships” and build on the Protect, Respect, and Remedy framework outlined in the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Principles illustrate that companies can impact the rights of the child through actions in the workplace, the marketplace, the community, and the environment.
According to the Principles, all companies should:
- Meet their responsibility to respect children’s rights and commit to supporting the human rights of children.
- Contribute to the elimination of child labor, including in all business activities and business relationships.
- Provide decent work for young workers, parents and caregivers.
- Ensure the protection and safety of children in all business activities and facilities
- Ensure that products and services are safe, and seek to support children’s rights through them.
- Use marketing and advertising that respect and support children’s rights.
- Respect and support children’s rights in relation to the environment and to land acquisition and use.
- Respect and support children’s rights in security arrangements.
- Help protect children affected by emergencies.
- Reinforce community and government efforts to protect and fulfil children’s rights.
The Principles encourage companies to take into account the basic entitlements and freedoms recognized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which should underpin action by the private sector, namely the best interest of the child, non-discrimination, child participation, and survival and development. In the area of labor, companies can respect and support the rights of the child by protecting young workers from jobs that are prohibited to young workers or beyond their capacity, by providing decent work and working conditions for young workers above the minimum age for work, and by supporting employees in their role as parents or caregivers. Protecting children from labor before they meet the minimum age for employment can be a challenge for companies, their subsidiaries or suppliers as the minimum age for employment often varies by country and age-verification may pose a challenge in certain contexts.
Companies should make a policy commitment to protect children’s rights as well as including children’s rights as a core component of a company’s human rights due diligence efforts. Companies should be especially vigilant when there is a high risk of the company, subsidiary, contractor, or supplier being involved in violations of children’s rights due to the nature of the work or the context in which they operate.