Putting business and child rights on the map in Thailand

With the full deluge of the Thailand rainy season lashing at the window of the 18th floor conference room, I sat in Sansiri’s headquarters across from the man that put Sansiri on the map as a business that respects and supports children’s rights here in Thailand.  Srettha Thavisin is the President of this upscale real estate development company (Thailand’s 2nd largest), and he applies his approach of “4-pillars” of social change, to all aspects of his company and business relationships.

Aside from advocating for and supporting important programmatic initiatives here in Thailand (iodization of salt initiative), supporting UNICEF’s global emergency programs financially (and substantially so), ensuring new mothers working for his company have access to private breast feeding facilities, his company is also piloting programs at some of their worksites and their subcontractor’s worksites to provide child friendly spaces and informal education for children of migrant construction workers who have come to the worksites with their parents.

And Mr. Thavisin is personally promoting his child rights message to all he encounters including his many high level contacts in the Thai business community and government. In my opinion, he is a true champion for children.  Sansiri, under Mr. Thavisin’s leadership,  is a company that definitely “walks the walk” of a child friendly business.

Video: Child-friendly space in the construction site

Our ambition is to see all Asia’s children survive and thrive and this can only happen through the concerted efforts of governments, communities, familys, and businesses which are the engines of South East Asia’s growth.  and if I could highlight a model partnership that embodies nearly everything UNICEF could hope to achieve for children by working with a company beyond just traditional philanthropy, this would be it.

I am the new guy in the region charged with promoting the Children’s Rights and Business Principles as an important part of how UNICEF works with companies –so I wanted to hear about his philosophy directly from him before each of us (Mr. Thavisin and I), parted ways to attend simultaneous CSR events half a world away from each other.

His journey will take him to New York where he will participate in the first UNICEF CSR workshop entitled “Children’s Rights and Business – Innovation and Action” at UNICEF house in New York.  There, accompanied by Beth Verhey, Senior Advisor, CSR also from the EAPRO office, Mr. Thavisin will join over 100 participants, half of which are C- level executives at major companies from around the world representing many different business sectors.

In this two day event they will share with and learn from each other’s experience in CSR issues related to children’s rights.  Mr. Thavisin will speak about his child friendly approach to business at the closing high level panel discussion for the  workshop and also at a special reception hosted by the Queen of Belgium.  He will also meet briefly with Anthony Lake to discuss his innovative child friendly business approach and renew his commitment to support UNICEF’s international emergency programming through a generous annual donation.

I will travel less far – just across town actually – to the CSR-Asia Summit, held this year right here in Bangkok.  There, I will spend (along with colleagues from the regional and Thai offices) two days hopefully meeting the majority of the over 450 delegates set to attend this event.  UNICEF will have an exhibit at this event and will be promoting the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (CRBP).

We have our name cards, lots of copies of the CRBP, and our most comfortable shoes ready for this event.  I will also represent UNICEF on a panel discussion (along with Friends International, Aviva, and Microsoft) entitled “The role of business in respecting and supporting the rights of children” – which will be an excellent chance to promote the Children’s Rights and Business Principles and have an open dialog with companies to convince them of the merits of taking a child focus approach to their CSR.

I’m heading over to set up our exhibit now – I hope that in a few day’s time after the two events have finished, that Mr. Thavisin and I, each in our own way, will have convinced a few more (or many more!) companies to commit to a child friendly approach to business – him through his sincere, humble philosophy that this work is important for the sustainability of (his) business and society, and me in my arguably less elegant, but equally sincere way.

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