By now, we have all heard many conversations about “corporate social responsibility,” “the power of the private sector,” and “advancing children’s rights within business,” but what exactly do they mean? How, exactly, are children impacted by business operations on a daily basis? And what, specifically, are companies supposed to be doing?
Companies play an important role in all our lives. They provide the incomes needed to pay for shelter, food, education, and health care. Companies have the potential to affect entire communities – locally, nationally, and globally – by the way they operate. At their best, they have the potential to raise the standard of living in surrounding communities, to protect the environment, as well as, the rights of workers and the well-being of their families.
The business operations of companies impact children on a daily basis. By providing fair wages for parents that enable them to pay for their children’s education, by providing safe working conditions that ensure their caregivers return home, and by combating child labour, corporations can contribute to breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty and inequality.
The impact and influence companies can have on the lives of children is enormous. When considering work with UNICEF it is important to look beyond financial and in-kind contributions. Each company can have a profound impact on children when it chooses to integrate children’s rights into its policies, into its core business practices and its organizational culture. And UNICEF can help companies understand just how to do that.
Presently, most companies are NOT considering the rights of children when designing their policies or assessing their impact. One simple reason for this might be that companies are unaware of how (and just how much) their activities involve and affect children. Another reason might be that companies willing to consider children simply don’t know exactly how to go about “considering children’s rights.” How does a company “ensure children’s rights are respected”? What does it mean?
The LEGO Group is partnering with UNICEF to provide illustrative answers to these questions. Starting now, and for the next 3-years, UNICEF will be lending its expertise on children’s rights in business to the LEGO Group. Together we will review and innovate around how to develop systems that can help assure that children’s rights are respected and supported throughout the company’s operations. The LEGO Group commits to openly communicating what actions were taken in a way that can empower and inspire other companies to do the same.
What the LEGO Group plans to do
The LEGO Group is aware of its impact and daily interaction with children. Just to give you some figures: there are millions of combinations someone can make out of six LEGO bricks; each person on earth owns on average 102 LEGO bricks; and, if you take the number of LEGO bricks that were sold in 2012, you could stretch them 24 times around the world.
Being aware of its influence and its reach, the LEGO Group is looking to take an active role not only in continuously ensuring that children’s rights are respected in its own operations, but also in promoting the integration of child rights onto the global private sector agenda in general. They want to inspire other companies to understand exactly how children’s rights are relevant to business operations and what can be done.
During a 3-year partnership with UNICEF, the LEGO Group will:
- Build evidence and awareness of how businesses can act responsibly towards children by reviewing its own policies and practices to ensure that they continue to support and respect children.
- Use the Children’s Rights and Business Principles for guidance with implementing new policies and practices and/or further strengthen existing practices in the LEGO Group operations where appropriate; and then share best practices to inspire other businesses.
- Increase accountability to children – for example, by strengthening the LEGO Group’s governance of child protection by developing and implementing a child protection policy.
It is my belief that, in the long run, the most effective partnerships are the ones that create a wave and that inspire others. This partnership between UNICEF and the LEGO Group is potentially one such partnership since it intends to change norms and convictions that currently might hinder respect for children within and outside company practices.
What are the Children’s Rights and Business Principles? If you aren’t familiar with them, the Children’s Rights and Business Principles is a comprehensive set of guidelines that help companies understand the full range of actions they are expected to take to consider children’s rights throughout their operations.
UNICEF, the UN Global Compact, and Save the Children released the Children’s Rights and Business Principles in 2012 to give business a clear idea of where and how their business might impact children. To give you an example, Principle 6 asks questions that empower companies to assess the impact of their marketing on children. For a full list of the 10 Principles and the tools, I encourage you to visit: http://www.unicef.org/csr/12.htm.
Bo Viktor Nylund is the Chief of Corporate Social Responsibility at UNICEF.