25 April 2012

Children's Rights and Business Principles: UK Parliamentary Launch

Yesterday, I attended the Parliamentary Launch of the Children's Rights and Business Principles in the UK, at the House of Commons. The Principles set out business actions to respect and support children's rights. Read on to find out what was discussed at the launch!

We started by watching the video below, which gives each of the ten Principles. You can also read them here.

Children's Rights and Business Principles

We then heard from the following speakers: David Bull, the Executive Director of UNICEF UK, David Harris, the Director of Responsible Investment of the FTSE Group and Karen Johnson, the Responsible Business Advisor from the Private Sector Department of DfIDMP Jeremy Lefroy chaired the discussion.

Developing the Principles

UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children worked in partnership to develop the ten Principles. Children aged from seven to seventeen, in nine countries in the Global South, took part in a consultation process. You can download the children's feedback and the report written on their consultations from this page on the Business and Children Portal. David Bull told us that these children included street children, children with disabilities, child soldiers and child labourers.

A variety of other consultations also took place - with the private sector in the Global North and South; regionally with businesses; and with the public though the Business and Human Rights website.

David Bull said that corporate social responsibility usually took into account child labour, but this was too narrow a conception and the Principles go beyond this. They look at children's rights in the workplace, and in the market place. They are concerned with business' responsibilities within the community where they operate. They refer to looking after and protecting the environment, which children depend on to grow healthily. They look at children indirectly too, with regards to work practices concerning mothers and caregivers. 

How will the Principles be put into Effect?

Jeremy Lefroy, stated how important it was that the Principles do not just remain on paper, but that action is taken to implement them.  Various ways to ensure that businesses implement the Principles were discussed. David Harris from the FTSE Group said that the Principles would affect different sectors in different ways. For example the food and drink sector should take into account issues such as childhood obesity and underage drinking, and the communications sector should think about protection for minors using social media.

Before looking in more detail at possibilities for implementing the Principles by businesses, it must be noted that David Bull emphasised that under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the primary responsibility for children's rights rests with governments. It is hoped that the Principles will inform legislation. Ideally, businesses would take up implementation of the principles, but governments must effectively regulate companies which do not respect children's rights. Businesses should face consequences if they exploit children, whether directly or indirectly

Businesses and Implementation of the Principles
These were the main points discussed:
  • For the Principles to have effect, companies must be monitored, be accountable, and must not be given credit where it is not due. 
  • The FTSE Group can independently monitor companies, which is better than companies monitoring themselves. The Principles then have the chance to be properly and independently assessed.
  • David Harris talked about the FTSE4GOOD Index Series, which measures how environmentally and socially responsible companies are. The Principles will be a vital measurement for this Index. Research will be commissioned through IRIS against companies in the FTSE4GOOD Index to see how well they are implementing the Principles.
  • The implementation issue is not about philanthropy, but about business. Karen Johnson said that to be properly effective, it must make business sense to implement the Principles and this should resonate with the core decision makers of a company - not just the corporate social responsibility department.
  • The Principles must be integrated into existing policies, management and public reporting, to be effective.
  • Businesses should be made to see that happy and healthy children are better for the communities in which they operate. Children can be consumers; their parents are in the work force; and the children make up the future talent pool for businesses.
Other issues were also brought up during the question and answer session. The Principles were formulated to be as broad as possible for all types of businesses across the world, but it was impossible to encompass all factors, and the principles may not be so helpful with regard to the informal sector. It was also noted that the FTSE Group deals with the largest, registered companies in the world and so would not assess smaller businesses. Reputation is important to businesses though, even if they are small, and this would hopefully encourage them to implement the Principles. 

What Happens Next?

David Bull said that it is important to disseminate the Principles as widely as possible. According to UNICEF's Corporate Social Responsibility website, a launch event for the Principles took place in Sweden today and such events will also happen in Moldova and China next month. It is vital that business leaders know about the Principles, so that they begin to be implemented. David Bull also told us that UNICEF should be producing a workbook which will offer some guidance to help businesses implement the Principles. 

Businesses have far reaching impacts on children, and this is a good initiative to try to ensure that they respect and support children's rights. Jeremy Lefroy observed that he cannot see any of the Principles being burdens on a company. Let us hope that the Principles can be publicised and then effectively implemented, to reduce (and hopefully stop) business' negative impacts on children and build on, and improve, their positive effects.


  1. Hello Catherine,

    Good Morning,

    My name is Julia Fagundes I am 19 years old, I am from Brazil.

    I've noticed that you are very informed of the Children's rights and business practice initiative. I find informations in your blog that i couldn't find enywere!
    So I was hopping you can help me with that issue...

    I'm working in an NGO on a project linked with the iniciative Children's Rights and Business Principles.
    My NGO discuss the bad impact of advertising on children.

    The 6th Principle is exactly about the relation business marketing - children.
    My question is: how does the sponsoring organizations will make sure that the business is not using bad advertising for the children, or using marketing to promote a unhealthy food, or even to promote a life style through some product that the children doesen't even need, but start to think he/her need's it just because they don't have any critical sense.
    In my opinion, every advertising aimed for children should be prohibited, but unfotunately, in Brazil, it is not.
    I just want to undestand how the 6th Principle of the Children's Right and Business Principles will work.
    Will there be any finantial incentive for the business? Or some obligation for the government to fiscalize that?

    Thank you for your atention, I am wating the answer.

    Julia Fagundes

    1. Hi Julia,

      Thank you so much for your comment and for your excellent questions!

      I have just seen your comment now, and unfortunately have to go to work right now, but I will write a proper reply to you this evening and will comment here.

      Your NGO sounds like it is doing great work!

      Best regards,

  2. Hi Catherine, you're fast!
    First, Sorry for the really bad english!
    Second, thanks a lot for your atention, I'm looking forward for your answer, but I have two more question, if that's ok:

    In Brazil, if we have a denounces to make against some business that is violating children's rights, who we can talk with? Unicef? Save the Children?

    And what the initiative thinks about general advertising for children?

    Thank you very much,

    1. Hi Julia,

      Thank you for your comments. I am glad you found my post useful. I only know a little about the Children's Rights and Business Principles, but I will try to help as much as I can with your questions.

      Firstly, it is important to understand that the Principles have not established a new legal framework. The UN Global Compact, one of the sponsoring organisations of the Principles, has produced the following presentation. If you look at slide 12, you will see what the purposes of the Principles are:
      According to the presentation, some of the purposes of The Principles are to "present a comprehensive and holistic vision" and "serve as a unifying framework and reference point". This means that the Principles provide guidance to businesses on good practices that respect children's rights. However, businesses are not obliged to follow the Principles.

      You asked how the sponsoring organisations will make sure that businesses are not using advertising or marketing which will have a bad impact on children. Businesses are encouraged to voluntarily follow the Principles, but the sponsoring organisations do not have the power to make sure that businesses do this. This was an issue that the organisation Human Rights Watch (http://www.hrw.org/) picked up on. In one of their articles, they stated:
      "While these elements of the initiative are positive, it is less clear how the principles will be translated into substantive changes in corporate behaviour... there is no requirement on those participating companies to submit to independent monitoring, and there are no penalties proposed for any company that endorses the principles but then acts in ways that contradict them."
      Human Rights Watch pointed out that the Principles do not have an enforcement mechanism.
      (The whole article is here: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/03/15/can-business-uphold-childrens-rights)

      So, basically, there is not a framework for the sponsoring organisations to make sure that businesses are complying with Principle 6 (or any of the other Principles).

      You asked if there would be any financial incentive for businesses to follow Principle 6, or if there will be any obligations for governments to fiscalise this. There are no such obligations on governments. A government may decide to use the Principles to inform its policies and legislation on business and children's rights (which, I think, would be ideal!). A government coud decide to offer financial incentives for businesses to follow Principle 6.
      The UN Global Compact has produced a "Frequently Asked Questions" document on the Principles. Section D is about implementation. Paragraph three under section D explains how governments can assist with the implementation of the Principles:

      Businesses are encouraged to adopt the Principles, but ultimate responsibility for children's rights lies with the state. UNICEF has produced a workbook, to help businesses implement the Principles. You can download it here: http://www.unicef.org/csr/335.htm
      Chapter four is about responsible marketing and advertising. The workbook even states:
      "Legally enforceable regulations must be followed to ensure the highest level of protection of children from targeted marketing and advertising."
      So, ideally, the state would regulate marketing and advertising aimed at children.
      I am not familiar with Brazil's laws. Has the government tried to regulate this in any way?

    2. (I am continuing from the comment above!)

      You asked how to complain about businesses which are violating children's rights in Brazil, and who you should talk with about this. You mentioned contacting UNICEF or Save the Children. I suppose you could try this, but I am not sure what the result would be. The Principles do not have a monitoring or reporting mechanism, so it seems to me that there is no specific body to submit complaints to if a business does not follow the Principles. Are there any local or national groups or authorities that would be concerned with this?

      The Human Rights Watch article, which I quoted from above, also states:
      "The Children's Rights and Business Principles are a significant development... But experience suggests that they will need to be matched by sustained public, civil society and media scrutiny of corporate practice, alongside appropriate political and legal reforms, if they are to deliver real and lasting change to children around the world."
      Reputation is very important to businesses, so scrutiny can have an impact on their practices. It sounds like your NGO is already doing work in this area.
      Another blog article on the Principles can be found here: http://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2012/04/12/childrens-rights-business-principle/
      The author of that article says that "In order for the Principles to be effective and enhance existing laws and programs, local communities, governments, international community and the media will all have to play a role in the protection of children’s rights."
      It might be worth you leaving a comment on this blog, as the author may know more about the issues surrounding the Principles than I do.

      Finally, you asked what the initiative thinks about general advertising for children. In answer to this, I would refer you to UNICEF's workbook again. (http://www.unicef.org/csr/css/CSR_Workbook_A4_LR_low_res.pdf) Chapter 4 is dedicated to this issue. Page 71 gives an overview as to why marketing and advertising aimed at children are issues and page 72 gives ideas that businesses can use, to make sure that their marketing and advertising practices do not harm children.

      It may also be of interest to you that the Committee on the Rights of the Child is drafting a General Comment on Child Rights and the Business Sector (See more here: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/callsubmissionsCRC_BusinessSector.htm)

      I hope this has helped with your questions. Marketing and advertising aimed at children present many problems, so it is great to hear that your NGO is looking at the bad impact it has.

      Wishing you all the best with this work,

    3. Catherine,

      thank you so much for the amazing explanation and for the nice tips!
      You asked me if there the brazilian government is trying to regulate marketing aimed for children.
      Despite some little efforts in this way, I can tell you that the brazilian government don't care about that.
      We have some law projects of the senate that try to regulate advertising for children, but the principal one, that was created in 2001, still there for votation, because only a few people in government worry's about that.
      The truth is that the government 'respect' business more than population. Is more intersting to government to protect the business and not desagree with it; than is to protect the population. Despite protecting population brings a true social return, protecting the business brings a economic return.

      You asked me if there any group concerned with this. In Brazil, we have some institutions (eg: CONAR) that are called publicity self-regulation. But it are not taken seriously because they only care about the business, and just a little about the human and children's rights. We have also an institution (PROCON) that try to fiscalize the marketing and make a lot of denounces for the government. And only a few works out.
      For example, PROCON made a denounces that Mc Donald's were using toys to promote their unhealthy food for the children. They won the process and the Mc Donald's pay something like 1.5 milion dolars as indenization, but didn't stop selling the toys.
      It's really hard to make something work here in Brazil, particularly when the government cares so much about getting rich (not for the country, but for each one who is inside the govern).

      Thank you very much for the references and everything!
      Wish you the best,

    4. Hi Julia,

      You're welcome! I am glad to be able to help.

      Thank you for your answers about Brazil. It was interesting to learn more about the situation there. I hope your work with your NGO goes well.

      Best wishes,