This post articulates my consultative services, and the frameworks that guide my research and practice in the field of children’s rights and private economic activity. I begin with a broad overview of human rights and business, and finish with specific services in my consulting practice.
Human Rights and Business Activity
The expansion of economic globalization has substantially altered the regulatory environment in which economic enterprises operate. These enterprises—more commonly known as multinational corporations—have extended their economic reach and footprint beyond national regulatory legal frameworks. Subsequently, international organizations have sought to develop supranational legal governance frameworks to institutionalize the social norms in which businesses operate. One such regulatory framework is the United Nations’ “protect, respect, and remedy” framework which seeks to “operationalize” the conduct of businesses in respect to human rights. The three pillars of this framework are:
- “the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including businesses, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication;
- the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which in essence means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others;
- and greater access by victims to effective remedy, judicial and non-judicial” (Ruggie, 2009).
In more practical terms, the first pillar encompasses national legislation, and involves the design and implementation of economic and legal policies that recognize the cross-border operations of businesses. The second pillar focuses on the agency of the business to operationalize human rights due diligence in all business activity. The third pillar refers to remediation processes used by businesses, governments and legal institutions for when human rights abuses actually occur.
The second pillar, which involves the agency of the business to operationalize human rights due diligence processes, offers considerable opportunities to realize the rights of the child in private economic activity. John Ruggie, who served as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights from 2006 to 2011, identifies ‘human rights due diligence’ as, “a comprehensive, proactive attempt to uncover human rights risks, actual or potential, over the entire life cycle of a project or business activity, with the aim of avoiding and mitigating those risks” (Ruggie, 2009). Several frameworks and guidelines have subsequently been developed to realize this second pillar, which are explored below.
The Realization of Rights in a Knowledge Society
We live in a rapidly emerging digitally-faciltated knowledge society in which economic growth and prosperity is increasingly influenced by the creation of knowledge (Hargreaves, 2003). For example, the proliferation of “apps” designed for a multitude of computing devices has created a massive economic marketplace and has touched nearly every part of modern society. This knowledge-based economy contrasts with marketplaces that rely heavily on natural resources (i.e. the production of goods) or human labour-intensive services (i.e. tourism). This marketplace relies on a complex network of businesses ranging from the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple with extensive global supply chains, to small entrepreneurial start-ups with minimal legal and compliance human resources.
In consideration of a rapidly emerging digitally-faciltiate knowledge economy, advancements in digital technologies have created unprecedented opportunities to realize the rights of the child in economic and business activity—ranging from fighting online sexual exploitation of children to allowing children’s freedom of expression and association through social media. Several Articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) have important implications for children’s digitally-mediated realities, namely Articles:
- 2. Non-discrimination,
- 3. Best interests of the child,
- 4. Protection of rights,
- 12. Respect for the views of the child,
- 13. Freedom of expression,
- 15. Freedom of association,
- 16. Right to privacy,
- 17. Access to information; mass media,
- 23. Children with disabilities,
- 28. Right to education,
- 29. Goals of education,
- 30. Children of minorities/indigenous groups,
- 32. Child labour,
- 34. Sexual exploitation,
- and 36. Other forms of exploitation.
Considering the emerging and expanding opportunities for rights to be realized through digital technologies, businesses need to take a proactive and explicit approach to respecting and supporting the rights of the child. By doing so, businesses will acknowledge the tremendous impact they have on the rights and well-being of children, and, as a result, produce goods and services that contribute to children’s healthy development and well-being.
Several international human rights organizations have created industry-specific principles and guidelines that will guide the implementation of policies and processes that respect and support children’s rights in private economic activity. For example, the UN Global Compact has developed the Children’s Rights and Business Principles Framework (2012) which provides 9 practical guidelines for businesses to respect and support the rights of the child. Several principles relate specifically to the marketplace and include:
- “# 4. Ensure the protection and safety of children in all business activities and facilitates
- # 5. Ensure that products and services are safe, and seek to support children’s rights through them.
- # 6. Use marketing and advertising that respect and support children’s rights.”
In recognition of these principles, UNICEF (2012) has subsequently developed a guidebook to be used by businesses in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts. These guidelines involve 5 steps that will advance the rights of the child in all business activity:
- Policy commitment
- Assessing impacts
- Integration and action
- Tracking performance and reporting
Through my consultative practice, I introduce and implement these 5 practical steps into all business operations and strategies. Each step involves several policies, processes and activities that businesses can adopt to ensure compliance with the regulatory frameworks on children’s rights as articulated by the “protect, respect and remedy” framework, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Children’s Rights and Business Principles. In addition to ensuring the well-being of children in private economic activity, the adoption of these policies and processes can contribute to the legitimacy of a business’s social value which can be represented through marketing and advertising efforts.
Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in the knowledge society: Education in the age of insecurity. New York: Teachers College Press.
Ruggie, J. (2009). Business and human rights: Towards operationalizing the “protect, respect and remedy” framework. Report to the Human Rights Council at the UN General Assembly. Available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/11session/A.HRC.11.13.pdf
UN. 1989. United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CRC.aspx
UNICEF. 2012. Children are everyone’s business: A practical workbook to help companies understand and address their impact on children’s rights. Available at: http://www.unicef.org/csr/css/CSR_Workbook_A4_LR_low_res.pdf
UN Global Compact. 2012. Children’s Rights and Business Principles. Available at: http://www.unglobalcompact.org/docs/issues_doc/human_rights/CRBP/Childrens_Rights_and_Business_Principles.pdf