To mark Global Child Forum’s ten-year anniversary, Désirée Abrahams asked both adults and children, what they considered the top 10 most important child right’s issues for business to consider in the next decade. In this blog post, she shares her reflections on the process and the survey’s findings.
Last Spring, I was tasked with drafting a White Paper for the Global Child Forum to serve as a commemorative piece to mark the organisation’s ten-year anniversary. It sought to be evidenced-based and include the voice of children.
It seemed right that a report on children’s rights and business would strive to hear what children have to say about companies, however difficult this task proved to be in practice. Should we have waivered from our goal, Greta Thunberg and the Friday for Future student strikers on our screens offered a visual reminder that Generation Z know a lot and have a lot to say.
Two surveys (one for adults and one for children) were drafted. While there were challenges in reaching children, it proved to be positive experience yielding some interesting opinions from diverse people around the world.
So, what did we learn?
Firstly, that adults and children alike share concerns about the actions of companies. For example, 89% of children expressed concern; with 43% being ‘very concern’
Climate change: a growing concern for all
Climate change and the environment came out top, as the issue both adults and children were equally troubled about (76% of children and 72% of adults). Incidentally, environmental protection was highlighted as a priority concern for the extractive industries with most adults seeing this as a number one issue for the oil and gas sector, while 27% identified it for mining.
This is unsurprising given that the combustion of oil and coal, to take two examples, causes the release of nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, which has a devastating impact on trees, plants and biodiversity.
Companies still need to prioritise child labour
Out of ten child-focussed business actions we offered our adult respondents, ‘taking action to eliminate and remedy child labour’ was ranked first. Similarly, children also shared strong views about companies needing to tackle child labour, with 62% expressing they were ‘very concerned’ about ‘children working when they should be at school.’
Child labour was also highlighted as the number one priority for the agriculture, apparel, and mining industries. In June 2019, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization noted that over 108 million boys and girls between 5 and 17 years work in the agricultural sector, making it the industry with the highest incidence of child labourers. Clearly, our respondents are informed and concerned.
However, like many other human rights issues that businesses affect, child labour is a complex, societal challenge, that can be viewed as a consequence of underlying, systemic problems.
While many companies have, and continue to take steps to eradicate child labour, sometimes in partnership with other industry peers, a business-to-business response will not fix the problem. Like all complex issues, child labour requires a comprehensive and holistic approach, one that brings together governments, civil society organisations and other key relevant actors, in concert with business.
Child-focussed collaboration is needed
A desire to see companies collaborate with organisations that support children’s rights was deemed a priority by 41% of adults. This is important, as children have special and specific needs; namely, cognitive, physical, emotional and social.
They rely on adults to protect them and safeguard their interests. Therefore, companies working with child rights specialists will benefit from their expertise and knowledge of how their business could potentially impact children. In so doing, the company would be actively realising its responsibility to protect children’s rights.
Companies – don’t forget the basics
The need for companies to have a confidential way for children to report any harm or abuse committed by a company official, or on a company’s premise was another action that caught the attention of both adults and children.
Over recent years, news reports have highlighted more children coming forward alleging emotional, physical or sexual abuse by persons working for companies, in particular, from the sport, entertainment, and tourism sectors.
In providing their testimonies, these brave children have provided a reminder of a fundamental action that needs to be taken by all companies that interact with children; essentially, the development of a confidential system that ensures any victim can be heard and the perpetrator is held accountable.
The digital world offers new risks
While it is easy to focus on the sectors that are in the media spotlight, let’s not forget the companies that may contribute or cause harm to children, albeit inadvertently, owing to their product or service.
For example, consider the responsibilities of the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) sector. The White Paper recognises the many social, educational and even well-being benefits for children associated with digital engagement. That said, it is hard to ignore the new childhood risks which have been able to flourish, such as cyber bullying, online grooming, and the live streaming of child sexual abuse.
Protecting children online was an issue to which both adults and children expressed considerable concern. Forty percent of adults stated they would like to see ICT companies protecting children online and their personal data, compared to 57% of children.
Too often, as adults, we feel as though we know what’s best for children and speak on their behalf. However, as the White Paper demonstrates, if consulted, children are very willing to share their views, opinions and ideas.
While they still have much to learn, they have a strong sense of justice and youthful idealism on their side. This makes what they say compelling, as it is untarnished and pure; just the type of honest advice that business could benefit from hearing.
As an organisation focussing on children’s rights and business, I commend the Global Child Forum for taking the leap and realising a child’s right to be heard.
Désirée has over 18 years' experience working for, and consulting to, business, governments, NGOs and UN organisations on responsible and sustainable business practice. She is experienced in drafting reports and practical tools, developing strategies and implementation action plans, monitoring and evaluating programmes, and facilitating cross-sectoral and functional teams. Since 2008, she has specialised on business and human rights; specifically, human rights impact assessments and children's rights and business. In 2011, she founded Day Associates.