Children are everyone's business
Business sustainability requires investing for children. Businesses must think beyond compliance to make an impact
Ten years ago, UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children presented a bold idea to the world: That what is good for children is ultimately good for business. If you think about it, children's lives are intertwined with how businesses operate and the decisions that business leaders make – as consumers, family members of employees, young workers, future employees and business leaders. Children also live and play in communities and environments in which businesses operate.
This bold idea, called "Child Rights and Business Principles", was unveiled in 2012. It guides companies on how to minimise their negative impact on children and maximise the positive effects that their activities and business relationships may have on children and young people. The Child Rights and Business Principles was the first tool to clearly articulate how the corporate responsibility to respect children's rights can be implemented in the workplace, the marketplace, and the community.
Children are affected by policies that businesses adopt as they produce and market their products and services. These policies determine, for example, if working mothers get paid time off to breastfeed, to take care of their young children or to seek routine medical care. Work policies, monitoring systems and the status of enforcement mechanisms up and down the supply chain, encompassing businesses big and small, also help determine how successful businesses are in ending child labour.
Information technology is a growing part of life around the world, giving new tools to children, but also potentially putting children at risk of exploitation and abuse online. Their data are often harvested without informed consent, and algorithms affect online experiences in hidden ways. Marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods contribute to rapidly rising levels of childhood overweight and obesity, leading to lifelong health consequences.
Businesses clearly have an important role and responsibility to play in finding sustainable solutions that respect children's rights and contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The good news is that the business community is making progress in this regard, but there is still a long way to go.
The direct support of the private sector to children is mainly through mechanisms such as corporate social responsibility budgets, worker wellbeing programmes, provision of daycare and breastfeeding spaces and breaks, scholarships for children, charity events, and donations. This support should be celebrated but, unfortunately, these efforts are limited to the formal sector and are not enough to dramatically move the needle for children.
In line with the vision of the Child Rights and Business Principles, UNICEF has engaged businesses to address some of the persistent social issues impacting children in Bangladesh. Our work, together with ILO and other UN and civil society partners, with garment factories and the tea industry, has helped to improve conditions for working mothers, including ready-access to childcare services. We have partnered with a mobile network operator to teach children, parents and teachers about online safety and to help keep children safe online.
UNICEF has helped to shape the market for sanitation products leading to increased demand and use of household toilets in rural Bangladesh. We continue to advocate with paint and battery industries to address lead poisoning, a major issue affecting children in Bangladesh.
As a step forward, UNICEF is partnering with North South University to establish a national platform on Child Rights and Business, to be hosted in the School of Business and Economics at North South University. This platform will engage and support key stakeholders of corporate Bangladesh to promote child rights business principles for children and their communities.
Businesses, investors and governments have it in their immediate power to turn promising developments into routine practice.
In the long run, business sustainability requires investing for children. Businesses must think beyond compliance to make an impact - their Corporate Social Responsibility should be aligned with national development plans to achieve Vision 2041.
Businesses must incorporate child rights indicators in their environmental, social and governance standards reporting, to address the business impact on children and their communities.
Effective government policies promoting responsible business practice must integrate child rights and ensure compliance in a transparent, accountable and child-friendly manner.
The next 10 years of the Child Rights Business Principles is an opportunity to do more to prevent the adverse impacts of business on children, their communities and their environment. The next decade will also be the most crucial years for achieving global Sustainable Development Goals. Let us reaffirm our collective pledge to ensure that children are truly everyone's business in Bangladesh.
Sheldon Yett is the UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh