New principles on children’s rights and business principles

The Children's Rights and Business Principles, developed by UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children, were launched on 12 March 2012.

The Principles seek to present a coherent vision for business, building on existing standards and initiatives, to maximise the positive impacts of business activity on children's rights, and eliminate negative impacts. They were developed through an extensive multi-stakeholder consultation process and are derived from internationally recognised children's rights. The first Principle outlines core actions to be taken by business, including policy commitments, due diligence and remediation. The remaining Principles provide guidance on the implementation of these core actions across all business activity.

The Principles provide that all business should:

  • Meet their responsibility to respect children's rights and commit to supporting the human rights of children.
  • Contribute to the elimination of child labour, including in all business activities and business relationships.
  • Provide decent work for young workers, parents and caregivers.
  • Ensure the protection and safety of children in all business activities and facilities.
  • Ensure that products and services are safe, and seek to support children's rights through them.
  • Use marketing and advertising that respect and support children's rights.
  • Respect and support children's rights in relation to the environment and to land acquisition and use.
  • Respect and support children's rights in security arrangements.
  • Help protect children affected by emergencies.
  • Reinforce community and government efforts to protect and fulfil children's rights.

Significantly, the Principles are aligned with and seek to elaborate on existing standards, including the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact. The guidance provided for companies in respect of each Principle is therefore two-fold.

First, the Principles identify steps that companies must take to comply with the corporate responsibility respect children's rights. They clarify the standard required under the international business and human rights framework and how this standard can be achieved. This approach will assist companies to streamline internal policies and processes, and ensure that measures adopted to address children's rights issues are consistent with those adopted to meet their broader human rights responsibilities. Importantly, the Principles state that companies' responsibility to respect children's rights applies not only to their own activities, but also to their business relationships. The Principles further recommend that all companies make a policy commitment to children's rights, undertake human rights due diligence and adopt child-sensitive measures to enable children to access grievance mechanisms and remedies.

Second, the Principles encourage companies to take optional measures that go beyond baseline compliance to support children's rights. The inclusion of guidance relating to this 'corporate commitment to support' is significant because it recognises and highlights business' capacity to positively, as well as adversely, impact children's rights. Measures identified in respect of the corporate commitment to support and encourage companies to think broadly about their capacity to contribute to rights realisation and to engage with relevant stakeholders to achieve this. For example, the Principles suggest that companies consider marketing strategies that promote self-esteem and health lifestyles, and include a case study of a European laundry soap business that designed a marketing campaign that created awareness of children's right to play.

Under the current international business and human rights framework, both States and business enterprises are recognised as having obligations and responsibilities with respect to children's rights. Although they acknowledge the significant role of States and other non-business actors, the Principles are directed to business actors and focus on measures that should be adopted by business. The Principles do not provide direct guidance to support the fulfilment of State's children's rights and business obligations. However, by elaborating on the ways in which business activity can impact children's rights and measures that companies can take to support children's rights, the Principles seek to inform the engagement of non-business actors, including States and civil society, with these challenges.

The Principles reflect a pragmatic balance between providing comprehensive coverage of children's rights and business issues on the one hand, and clear, accessible and practical guidance on the other. The complexity of many children's rights and business issues is alluded to in a number of contexts, for example, in relation to the particular vulnerabilities of female and Indigenous children. However, the guidance provided in respect of each Principle is focused.  The importance of adopting context-sensitive measures and exploring complex issues is raised via best practice examples provided throughout the Principles.

The Principles provide a useful tool to enable businesses to explore impacts of business activity on children's rights, eliminate adverse impacts and maximise positive impacts, and have been welcomed by the business community and civil society.

The Children's Rights and Business Principles are available at:

Catie Shavin is a lawyer and member of Allens Arthur Robinson's International Business Obligations group.