Tools to integrate children’s rights into business

We received quite a bit of feedback on last month’s post about UNICEF’s new partnership with the LEGO Group, and several questions asking exactly how UNICEF works with companies and what it means to ‘integrate children’s rights,’ into business practice.

When you ask: “How does UNICEF work with companies on these issues?” the answer is that we guide them in using four tools to understand: (1) where children’s rights fit into their policies, (2) how their activities impact children, (3) how they should engage various stakeholders (from suppliers to employees) during the process of improving respect for children in their business, and (4) how they can monitor and report on their respect for children and other sustainability activities.

The 4 corresponding tools are:

  1. The Children’s Rights in Policies and Codes of Conduct tool,
  2. The Children’s Rights in Impact Assessment tool,
  3. The Engaging Stakeholders on Children’s Rights tool, and
  4. The Children’s Rights in Sustainability Reporting tool.

(1) The Children’s Rights in Policies and Codes of Conduct tool can assist a company in integrating children’s rights elements into its existing policies. Let’s use a company’s marketing and communications policies as an example. How does the tool work? Well, first, the tool walks the company through a series of questions testing the extent to which existing policies consider children’s rights. Then, the tool references the relevant Children’s Rights and Business Principle (which in the case of marketing, refers to Principle 6) and goes through a list of relevant considerations.

For example: Does the company’s existing marketing and product labeling policies ensure that parents and children are empowered to make informed choices? This includes a policy that specifies the minimum age for child-targeted advertisement and what defines child-targeted advertisement for that company.

(2) The Children’s Rights in Impact Assessment tool identifies impact assessment criteria for each of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles that a company can use when assessing its impact in each of the business areas. For example, sticking with Principle 6 (related to marketing) the impact assessment criteria proposed by the tool cover three areas of business: (1) policy, (2) due diligence, and (3) remediation.

Glance at page 37 of the tool and you will find a table that specifically lays out imperative policy criteria for marketing and advertising, as well as the specific actions a company can take to meet that criterion if they currently do not. For instance, the table encourages companies to ask whether or not their current marketing policies take into account the evolving impacts related to the use of digital media, including the use of personalized promotions aimed specifically at children.

(3) Clearly companies will need to engage different stakeholders when actively working to enhance their standards and practices at both the corporate and site levels. The Engaging Stakeholders on Children’s Rights tool aids companies in determining the relevance and appropriate level of engagement with each type of stakeholder. With regards to Principle 6, this tool can be used to identify which stakeholders to engage when developing child-friendly marketing policies. This might include engaging with children directly to study the impact of marketing and advertising on their behavior through focus group interviews, surveys, etc.

(4) The Children’s Rights in Sustainability Reporting tool simply guides business in how to report on children’s rights against the reporting framework provided by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The tool includes examples of company information to report on.

Related to Principle 6, this means pointing out that a company should report on whether or not they have, for example, formal mechanisms for complaints concerning violations relating to children’s rights in the context of marketing and advertising. This tool also suggests indicators that can be used to report on each of the Principles. For Principle 6, a possible indicator is “programmes for adherence to laws, standards, and voluntary codes related to marketing communications, including advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.”

Full copies of the 4 tools for companies are freely available online.

Bo Viktor Nylund is the Chief of Corporate Social Responsibility at UNICEF.

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