Jan 21, 2016 News
By providing decent work and salaries, businesses can have immense impact on their workers’
lives and families. This notion was recently amplified by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative, Ms. Marianne Flach.
In the promotion of decent work, Flach noted that young workers must also be taken into consideration with particular focus on age-appropriate, social protection and health information and services.
Added to this, the UNICEF Representative highlighted the importance of paying attention to working conditions such as the payment of a living wage, length and flexibility of working hours, and provisions for pregnant and breastfeeding women. She noted too that parental leave, supporting migrant and seasonal workers with distance parenting, and facilitating access to good quality childcare, health care and education for dependents must be among the considerations in promoting decent work.
Flach, using information from the World Health Organisation (WHO), disclosed that each year around three million children under five years old die, due to environment-related diseases.
But according to her, businesses can take measures to progressively reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from company operations and promote resource use that is sustainable. “They can recognize that these actions and other initiatives to better the environment will impact future generations. They can identify opportunities to prevent and mitigate disaster risk and support communities in finding ways to adapt to the consequences of climate change. Let us remember that children are more vulnerable to impacts of climate change, but that it is also their future that is at stake,” Flach observed.
Flach, who was earlier this week speaking at a conference that highlighted the rights of children in the extractive sector, recounted that “a 17-year-old girl from Bosnia and Herzegovina said during a United Nations Security Council Meeting on Children and Armed Conflict, 2002: ‘War and politics have always been adult games, but children are always the losers’.”
The UNICEF Representative told the gathering at the recent forum, too, that “a young person in Peru, during a Children’s Participation in Corporate Social Responsibility Workshop, organized in 2010 by Save the Children said: ‘Do not take advantage of us, we ask you to be responsible. Do not support us because you feel pity for us; instead, support us because we deserve it. We purchase your products and services, but we ask you to invest in our development. We do not want gifts; we want you to be responsible.’”
And according to Flach, it was young people from Paraguay, during the Children’s Consultations for the Children’s Rights and Business Principles Initiative in 2011, who related that “it is important that businesses work… to better understand human rights and the implications their actions have over people’s lives’.”
Flach moreover concluded that the effect that businesses have on children can be long-lasting and even irreversible, even as she pointed out that “childhood is a unique period of rapid physical and psychological development, during which young people’s physical, mental and emotional health and well-being can be permanently affected for better or worse.”
She observed that while recognition of the responsibility of businesses towards children has often focused on preventing or eliminating child labour, businesses can affect children in many more ways.
“We can think of the use or production of pollutants – children absorb a higher percentage of such products in cases where they are exposed, and thus their immune systems are more compromised and vulnerable. We think here of mercury, present in the environment of Guyana and especially dangerous for pregnant women, the unborn and very young children.
“A 13-year old boy from India, during a Save the Children workshop on ‘Children’s Participation in Corporate Social Responsibility’ in 2010 said: ‘Pay our parents adequately so that children do not have to drop out of school’,” Flach highlighted in her presentation.
It was perhaps with such considerations in mind that in 2012, UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children, created a partnership to develop 10 Children’s Rights and Business Principles. These principles, according to Flach, are the first comprehensive set of principles to guide companies on actions that they can take in the workplace, marketplace and community to respect and support children’s rights. There has been much advancement with respect to human rights and business. But according to Flach, there is still significant progress to be made with respect to holistically addressing children’s rights, especially in the extractive sector.
She however noted that the 10 Principles are built on existing standards, initiatives and best practices related to business and children, and seek to present a coherent vision for business to maximize the positive impacts and minimize negative impacts on children, who are often overlooked as stakeholders of business.
It is expected that businesses within the extractive sector will embrace the existing principles with a view of arresting prevailing negative impacts affecting children.
According to Flach, “extractive operations such as mining often occur in some of the most remote areas, and can have profound impacts on the lives of some of the most vulnerable children.”
“We hope that this conference will help to inform companies in the extractive sector about the importance of actively integrating respect and support for children’s rights into their core strategies and operations, and will serve as an inspiration and a guide for all businesses in their interactions with children,” added Flach.
She informed too that, “in engaging with extractive companies, UNICEF would like to work with those companies, governments and civil society to develop tools, guidance and research to support companies in identifying and managing their impacts on children.”
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