“Business impacts children. And therefore, we must let children impact business.” These words from H.M King Carl XVI Gustaf, during his speech at the recent Global Child Forum in April 2018, underline the importance of understanding children’s rights – especially recognizing the unique position investors and companies have to protect and advance these rights.
Before understanding an investor’s role in advancing children’s rights, it’s key to understand what are children’s rights. Among others, children have the right to play, to health care, to education, to an adequate standard of living, the right to protection from abuse and exploitation, and the right to live in safe environments. These rights are framed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. But while these rights have been articulated and enshrined in a UN Convention, the links between these rights and business is not always clear. But they are there. And investors, and business, have a responsibility to understand, uphold and advance children’s rights in their operations, communities and in their investment decisions.
Investors play a key role in influencing companies’ behaviour
Why should investors apply a child rights lens in their investment decisions? Simply expressed, investors play a critical role in influencing corporate behavior. Because of this, responsible investors are increasingly integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations into investment decisions. But in addition to these considerations, investors also need to understand that applying a specific children’s rights perspective not only benefits children, but also fosters a sustainable business environment.
In this regard, reporting on human rights issues in the supply chain, including children’s rights, is crucial. By demanding that companies are transparent in their reporting on children’s rights issues, investors can effectively put pressure on companies to take those issues into account, which can have widespread benefits for the condition of children globally.
A good example is Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM). In its annual report on responsible investments, NBIM clearly states which companies it considers to have good reporting related to children’s rights. Letters are sent to the companies who are deemed to be falling short, and NBIM engages in dialogue with them.
But in general, progress on integrating children’s rights into investment processes has been modest, at best. Global Child Forum and GES have, for the past several years, surveyed investors regarding their practices. What is most telling is that the response to these surveys have been low, with one of the reasons being a lack of understanding vis-à-vis investor’s behaviour and children’s rights.
Children’s rights are about more than just child labour
Most tend to see children’s rights issues in relation to child labour and may fail to grasp the wider implications of children’s rights issues as they relate to business. Rightfully so, as child labour is still a rampant challenge with 152 million children being victims of child labour in the world, according to the ILO.
But besides combating child labour, there are many more actions investors and business can take to support and protect children and their rights. These include making sure that, for example, companies address the safety of their products for children, that they ensure decent conditions for working parents and youth workers, and that they don’t exploit or pollute communities and the environment. The Children’s Rights and Business Principles delineate the roles and responsibility that business can take in many of these areas.
While many companies and investors are motivated to do good because it’s the right thing to do, there are clear business benefits to taking such action, such as improved reputation and risk management, contributing to recruiting and maintaining a motivated workforce and serving as a source of innovation and new market opportunities.
In order to understand more about these connections, investors and business can access an array of useful resources and tools such as the Children’s Rights and Business Principles, the Children’s Rights and Business Atlas and the GES Investor Guidance for Children’s Rights Integration (see below for more information).
Interestingly, it’s worth noting that many investors do address these issues but without labelling them as specifically benefiting children. In other words, many are already managing child rights issues without realizing, due to the fact that they are interlinked with more ‘mainstream’ ESG topics.
By engaging collaboratively, investors can maximize their leverage
We can all agree that more work is necessary to ensure the well-being of the world’s children. One of the most efficient and impactful ways for achieving this is by means of collaboration, with both peers and other stakeholders. Through joint efforts, investors, companies, and organisations can share know-how and align their actions in order to deliver tangible solutions for safeguarding children and advancing their rights.
By working together we can fulfill the dream of Indonesian youth workers Ruth and Fauza, who joined our latest Global Child Forum: “We have a dream that there will be joint efforts between children, families, communities, governments and the business sector to promote and fulfill children’s rights.”
At the Forum, Global Child Forum launched The Pledge for Children’s Rights and Business, an urgent call for businesses to create tangible initiatives and forge partnerships which advance children’s rights in their operations, supply chains and in the communities in which they operate.
At GES International, we have signed the pledge and are committed to carrying out at least three concrete undertakings aimed at informing, involving and providing related tools for investors over the next 12 months, including updating the investor guidelines on children’s rights integration. Global Child Forum has committed to incorporate children’s voices more in our operations. As a business leader, an investor; as someone who wants to take real action to advance children’s rights in your sphere of influence, what’s your commitment? Take the Pledge here.
Josefin has previously worked as an international coordinator at Katrineholm municipality, supporting local and international projects from inception to successful funding applications and implementation. She has managed research projects on various issues related to sustainability for the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, SIANI (Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative), Naturskyddsföreningen among others. Josefin holds a Master’s Degree in International Development and Management from Lund University in Sweden. On a voluntary basis, she has been the secretary of the board and a project manager for the Swedish youth sustainability network PUSH Sverige.
Learn more about available investor and business guides and resources:
The Children’s Rights and Business Principles were launched in 2012 by UNICEF, Save the Children and UN Global Compact, and is the first comprehensive set of principles to guide companies on the full range of actions they can take in the workplace, marketplace and community to respect and support children’s rights.
The Children’s Rights and Business Atlas is an online risk assessment tool that enables businesses to identify the risk of direct or indirect infringement of children’s rights across 198 countries. Investors can use this tool to understand the main child-related risks in a specific country, and to then take steps to highlight these issues with investee companies in that location.
The GES Investor Guidance for Children’s Rights Integration aims to explain the relevance and appropriate actions related to the Children’s Rights and Business Principles, specifically from the investor perspective. It is intended to serve as a concise reference and checklist for investors to use in their daily operations to ensure that children’s rights are taken into consideration.