Why business must become a champion of children’s rights

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Why business must become a champion of children’s rights

Global Child Forum, a foundation established by the Swedish Royal Family to promote children’s rights, has just announced the results of its 2019 global benchmark study. As part of the Boston Consulting Group team partnering with the Stockholm-based non-profit to conduct the study, the findings have been eye-opening for me. Companies around the world are making some progress in protecting children—but not nearly enough.

The imperative to accelerate the pace of progress amid rising risks to child safety and protection globally will only grow more urgent. There is, of course, the moral issue of ensuring that companies protect the most vulnerable members of the population across their business value chain. But there is a more pragmatic reason to give this issue increased attention: the rapid growth in sustainable investing which factors company performance in areas such as children’s rights into investment decisions.

Some Improvement—And Some Troubling Gaps

The study, titled The State of Children’s Rights and Business: From Promise to Practice, assessed nearly 700 of the world’s largest companies, and how they are safeguarding children’s rights as part of their business value chain. Among the key findings:

  • Companies are tracking their performance in child rights indicators better than they were when we did the first such study back in 2014. The oil, gas and utilities sectors had the largest improvement.
  • North American companies lag counterparts in Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of board accountability, materiality assessment, supplier assessment and, most notably, reporting on incidents or risk of child labor.
  • Companies around the world still perform poorly when it comes to protecting children as consumers via responsible marketing and product safety.

In general our work revealed that companies continue to focus their efforts primarily around child labor. But while that is important, it isn’t sufficient. For one thing, companies often fail to adequately monitor their full supply chain when scrutiny of suppliers two or three steps removed from their own manufacturing operations would reveal problems. In addition, the impact on children from a company’s business extends far beyond labor practices, including a company’s environmental and social track record.

The Role of Investors

As I have seen firsthand in my work with private equity firms, that track record is getting more attention now than in the past. Assets managed under sustainable investing approaches, including strategies that integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance into investment decisions, hit $30.7 trillion in 2018—up 34% in just two years. That growth is fueled in part by the mounting evidence that companies that lead in ESG performance generate better returns for shareholders.

Not surprisingly, children’s rights and a company’s overall ESG performance are inextricably linked. A company’s environmental record, for example, can have a significant impact on children’s health. And the degree to which a company supports and uplifts the communities in which it operates will have a major influence on the lives of children in those communities.

That’s why both companies and investors need to pay more attention to the rights of children around the world. If they don’t, I have no doubt they will ultimately pay a price in the market for that failure.

About Johan Öberg

Johan Öberg is a Managing Director and Senior Partner in BCG’s Stockholm office and Head of the Private Equity sector within the PIPE practice. You may contact him on Linkedin or by e-mail at oberg.johan@bcg.com.

 

Author

Johan Öberg

Managing Director & Senior Partner
Boston Consulting Group

Johan Öberg is a Senior Partner and Managing Director at Boston Consulting Group. He leads the global private equity sector and is on the leadership team of The Boston Consulting Group’s Principal Investors & Private Equity practice. Johan has a broad experience from strategy, M&A and transformation projects globally. He holds a BA in business economics from Uppsala University and California State University, and an M.B.A. from INSEAD.

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2018

On Wednesday, April 11, the 10th Global Child Forum 2018 was held at the Stockholm Royal Palace. Over 300 participants from around the world gathered to discuss child rights issues. Participants represented global companies, financial institutions, civil society, the UN, academia and government.

Investing in every child starts when business and investors recognize their influence on children. At the 10th Global Child Forum at the Stockholm Royal Palace, we discussed these matters. But we also listened. Read the Forum report to be inspired, take part of case stories and to learn more about how your business can take action to support children’s rights.

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Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca focuses its global community investment on the pressing challenge of preventing non-communicable diseases. They do this by targeting adolescents health and major risk behaviours such as tobacco and alcohol use and unhealthy eating through the AstraZeneca Youth Health Programme. A unique feature of the programme is that combines measures for behavioural change with research and advocacy.   “The youth of today are going to be the main drivers of economic development for evolving nations. One way to help them grow up healthy is to empower them with knowledge about making healthy choices.” Helen-Marie Seibel, Director, Global Community Investment, AstraZeneca   In this Deep Dive, we delve deeper into the Youth Health Programme in order to understand its background story and key features. The insights are based on interviews with company representatives and publicly available resources. As part of our research on corporate children’s rights programs, we have also developed a guide for companies: “Corporate Children’s Rights Programs – Guidance and Best Practice”.  

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Global Child Forum and GES International have surveyed asset owner signatories to the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) in 2014, 2015, and 2017, in order to understand perspectives of the investor community on integrating children’s rights issues into decision-making processes. We are now taking stock of the knowledge generated from these surveys and from recent in-depth interviews with nine investors. The main findings of our work are presented in this report. The purpose of this report is twofold: to provide information and inspiration to investors by highlighting the relevance of children’s rights, and to supply concrete tools and frameworks for applying related perspectives. We also present two company examples which serve to demonstrate how investors can work with children’s rights on a practical level.

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guidance toolkit

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UNICEF, United Nations Children's Fund

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