Children under 18 years old account for almost one third of the world’s population. In many countries, children and youth make up almost one half of the national population. It is inevitable that business, whether small or large, will interact with and have an effect on the lives of children both directly and indirectly. Children are key stakeholders of business – as consumers, family members of employees, young workers, and as future employees and business leaders. At the same time, children are key members of the communities and environments in which business operates.
With increased attention being paid to the role of business in society in parallel to governments and other societal actors, and with greater awareness of the links between business and human rights, the explicit focus on the impact of business on children is also timely. Children are among the most marginalized and vulnerable members of society and this is evident from their lacking a public voice. They are rarely given a say or consulted about how communities make decisions – even decisions affecting them directly, such as planning for schools and recreational areas. Yet, when given the opportunity to participate, children have demonstrated that they can provide important alternative view points and make valuable contributions.
The effects that business has on children can be long-lasting and even irreversible. Childhood is a unique period of rapid physical and psychological development during which young people’s physical, mental and emotional health and well-being can be permanently affected for better or worse. Adequate food, clean water, and care and affection during a child’s developing years are essential to his or her survival and health.
Children are even affected by everyday hazards differently and more severely than adults. Due to their physiology, children absorb a higher percentage of pollutants to which they are exposed, and thus their immune systems are more compromised and vulnerable.
Children employed or affected by a business are often invisible. Typical examples include children working illicitly in the supply chain, children on or around company premises, children employed as domestic workers in employee housing, children exposed to business products, children arrested and detained by security services and children of migrant workers left at home.
To date, recognition of the responsibility of business towards children has often focused on preventing or eliminating child labour. While reinforcing standards and actions necessary to prevent and eliminate child labour, the Children’s Rights and Business Principles also highlight the diversity of ways in which business affects children. This includes the impact of their overall business operations – such as their products and services and their marketing methods and distribution practices – as well as through their relationships with national and local governments, and investments in local communities.
Respecting and supporting children’s rights requires business to both prevent harm and actively safeguard children’s interests. By integrating respect and support for children’s rights into the core strategies and operations, they can strengthen their existing corporate sustainability initiatives while ensuring benefits for their business. Such efforts can build reputation, improve risk management and secure their ‘social license to operate’. A commitment to children can also help recruit and maintain a motivated workforce. Supporting employees in their roles as parents and caregivers, and promoting youth employment and talent generation are just some of the concrete steps that business can take. Considering how products and services can better meet children’s needs can also be a source of innovation and create new markets. Finally, working for children helps build strong, well-educated communities that are vital to a stable, inclusive and sustainable business environment.
The Children’s Rights and Business Principles provide a comprehensive framework for understanding and addressing the impact of business on the rights and well-being of children. Save the Children, the UN Global Compact and UNICEF hope that these Principles will serve as inspiration and a guide for all business in their interactions with children.
From ‘A World Fit for Us’, Message from the Children’s Forum, 5-7 May 2002, United Nations Special Session on Children.
For more statistics on children, see http://www.childinfo.org