Last week I attended an international seminar on child
rights and the business sector, a topic that, until recently, has
not received the attention it deserves. This is surprising given that children are hugely
impacted upon by the actions of companies, and that the influence of
business has grown significantly over the past few decades. It is now easier
than ever for companies to reach younger global audiences.
The Seminar kicked off with an overview of how the international framework on
business and human rights had evolved. An interesting session on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights reinforced the
message that States must protect
human rights, companies must respect
human rights and both must work to
remedy any rights violations that have occurred.
We spent three days developing recommendations for the
Committee on the Rights of the Child as it drafts its General Comment
on Child Rights and Business Sector, which UNICEF has supported the development
Here are some of the key issues that were discussed:
The muddy waters
of extra-territorial jurisdiction
was, perhaps, the most discussed topic of the seminar, with more questions than
answers generated... Who is responsible for children's
rights violations across borders? How can governments exercise authority
when companies based in their countries or their subsidiaries violate human
rights abroad? How should companies operate in countries with weaker protection
of human rights?
This is one issue that the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee picked
up in a report it published
last week, urging the government to do more to address human rights abuses
resulting from the overseas activities of UK businesses.
It'll be interesting to see how the UK Government responds to this, and
the many other points raised, in its forthcoming strategy on Business and Human
The need for a
was much debate about the need for a legally binding instrument to specifically
address the impact of companies on human rights. Should there be a new optional
protocol to an existing convention that would require mandatory reporting by
companies on their human rights impacts? Or perhaps a new type of international
convention that companies (rather than States) could sign?
Given that all attempts to develop "hard law" on this issue have
failed since the 1970s, I think that this collective push is misplaced - at least in the short-term.
We need to look at what action would result in the least human rights
abuses right now. It would take
decades to achieve international consensus on the scope of a new convention,
let alone the enormous task of getting States and companies to agree and then
ratify. A more achievable goal would be to focus on getting States and
companies to do what they should already be doing better.
The Children's Rights and Business
It was great to hear positive reactions to the CRBP launched earlier this
year by UNICEF, Save the Children and The UN Global Compact.
The discussion focussed on the challenge to engage the many companies
that do not have an existing commitment to respect children's rights, and
furthermore, those companies who do not see the importance of human rights (let
alone children's rights) at all. This is a challenge that UNICEF and its
partners are already embracing.
Market leaders like Ikea,
H&M and Marks & Spencer, whose global operations impact millions of
children worldwide, have been forthcoming in beginning the CRBP journey. They will
play an important role in setting examples to other companies.
UNICEF is currently developing some exciting tools to assist companies
on their journey towards adopting the CRBP, including a child rights checklist
for companies and guidance for companies on how to consult with children and
young people. Watch this space!
Samah Abbasi is an International Policy & Research Officer at UNICEF UK