The article was originally published on Unicef.fi and adapted for our readers who prefer English.
Few people know that companies have clear guidance on how children can be better taken into consideration in business operations. In fact, such guidance has been in place for over a decade. Children’s Rights and Business Principles are already being applied by some leading companies. For example, Nokia and Lindström Group have used the principles for years.
In 2012, UNICEF, UN Global Compact and, Save the Children published the Children’s Rights and Business Principles. Businesses have the responsibility to respect human rights, and these principles clarify what this means in terms of children’s rights. The ten principles help businesses of all sizes identify areas within their operations where they can make a positive impact on children’s lives.
During the last decade, sustainability has made a break-though not just on the agendas of large corporations, but for small and medium-sized enterprises as well. Sustainability is an integral part of good business. Pioneering companies integrate sustainability into organizational strategy, creating a basis for future success.
In addition to environmental issues, companies now pay increasing attention to human rights, including children’s rights. Measures promoting children’s rights improve a company’s reputation and risk management, attract customers and investors, and ensure that the company operates in a socially acceptable way.
A third of the world’s population is children – that is, under the age of 18. Basic human rights apply to everyone, but there are also human rights that apply specifically to children. Children require special protection because they are still developing physically, emotionally and mentally.
Engaging children in product development
Lindström Group has used the children’s rights principles in its sustainability work. For instance, the company has involved children in its product design and development. Children have participated in designing Lindström’s carpet patterns and in testing and developing its products.
Because children bear the brunt of global warming, Lindström strives to minimize its climate impacts. Lindström Group is committed to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) goal to not have global warming exceed 1.5 degrees. In addition, Lindström Group has long supported UNICEF’s work in India to ensure clean water and improved hygiene.
“Our employees also have time for children. Remote working and flexible working hours make it easier to maintain a good balance between family and work commitments. With our own We Care campaign, which we launched three years ago, we help to prevent bullying in Finnish schools,” says Leena Kähkönen, manager of Lindström Group’s external communications. “Sustainability is at the core of all our operations, so acting accordingly is vital to us.”
“Finnish companies must work together for children’s rights”
“Companies could involve children more in their product development and product design, especially when the end users are children. Participation will help children contribute and have a say in decision-making that concerns them. This would make planning and design more child-oriented. Often products and services are not designed with children’s needs in mind,” says Kähkönen.
Nokia’s Vice President of Environmental, Social & Governance, Nicole Robertson, also encourages towards positive change. “Companies can start by assessing the possible positive and negative effects of their operations on children and their rights. They could also foster collaboration to promote children’s rights and their realization more extensively in society.”
Online connection and digitization to improve children’s opportunities
Telecommunication connections are becoming increasingly critical, bringing new responsibilities related to children’s rights and human rights. “At Nokia we believe that telecommunications play a key role in providing children around the world equal opportunities, enabling them to study, access health care, and find jobs later on,” says Robertson.
Nokia has partnered with UNICEF for years with the goal of improving children’s lives through connectivity and digitalization.
In a project in Kenya, 90 primary schools were connected to the internet. With covid-19 induced school closures, there was an increased need for digital study material and remote education. Thanks to work done previously, the project was able to support the Kenyan government in its remote education projects.
In Indonesia, a mobile app gives people better access to health care and has improved the vaccination rate. “In our latest joint project with UNICEF, we support the most vulnerable young people in Morocco and teach them digital and entrepreneurial skills.”
Paying a living wage for workers helps keep children in school
Discussion about child rights and business often raise the topic of child labor. Robertson says that Nokia has zero tolerance towards the use of child labor, whether direct or indirect. “This applies to our own operations as well as our suppliers. To reduce the risk of indirect child labor, we are committed to paying a living wage to employees working for us and our suppliers, so that they are able to provide for their families, and their children can stay in school instead of having to start working at a young age.”
“A good start, but plenty still to do”
Outi Kauppinen, Senior Advisor for Sustainable Development at UNICEF Finland says that while champion businesses are leading the way, companies need to integrate child rights more systematically into their activities. Progress has been slow in comparison to the scale of the enormous global crises we are facing, such as climate change.
“Children just can’t wait. Their rights must be better recognized also in business operations. We all have a joint responsibility to ensure that children have the best possible opportunities to grow and achieve their full potential,” says Kauppinen.