Children interact directly and indirectly with business everyday – as users, consumers, dependents of employees or as young workers in supply chains. Children are also members of the communities and environments in which businesses operate.
A business may affect or impact children’s rights in three ways : First, a business may cause an impact on children’s rights through the business’ own actions or decisions. For instance, a business is said to cause an impact on children when it employs an underage children or exposes them to hazardous working conditions.
Second, a business may contribute to impacts on children’s rights through its own actions or the actions of its business partners. For example, a business is said to contribute to negative impact on children when it pollutes a river, thereby affecting local farmers’ livelihoods, leading them to send their children to work to compensate for loss of income.
Lastly, a business may be linked to impacts on children’s rights throughts its operations, products or services because they are caused by an another person or entity with which the company has a business relationship. For instance, a business is said to be linked to child labour when its buys raw materials or commodities produced with child labour on the spot (cash) market or through an agent.
Human rights touch all aspects of our lives and are linked to each other in many ways. Since rights are interdependent and reenforcing, several people and their rights may be impacted as a consequence of any single business activity. When we talk about children’s rights, this also means taking their parents’ and other key community members’ right into account. Ensuring the protection and promotion of the right of parents and farmers will often positively impact the rights their children. Contributing to human rights abuses that affect parents and members of a child’s community will often have a negative effect on children.
Let’s dig deeper with some examples. The rights discussed below come from the UN Convention on the rights of the Child, or the CRC. This is the most widely accepted international human rights treaty in the world and it lays out the basic rights of every child.
Article 2 The right to non-discrimination (one of the 4 general principles of the CRC)
Poverty is one of the main root causes of child labour in agriculture. Families living in poverty are more likely to have limited access to healthcare, childcare, education and decent job opportunities, which makes it even harder for these families to meet basic needs and to build a better future. Poverty and discrimination are linked. People living in situations of poverty can be discriminated against simply because they are poor. Additionally, discrimination, for example from decent work or education opportunities, can contribute to poverty.
Promoting the right to non-discrimination is critical to eliminate child labour. Businesses can promote the right to non-discrimination by creating equal opportunities in their supply chains with a focus on decent work, promoting education and skills training, and making it a priority to consult with marginalized and vulnerable groups such as minorities, migrants, women and children of all ages and take their views into account.
Article 3 The best interests of the child (one of the 4 general principles of the CRC) Over 70% of child labour occurs in agriculture, many times in family situations, with parents and children working side by side. Withdrawing children from child labour can be a complicated process as it affects the family’s economic situation, as well as the education, mental health and overall well-being of the child. All these things must be taken into account when considering how to intervene to progressively eliminate child labour in supply chains.
A rights-based approach must include consideration for how to act in the child’s best interest. Businesses looking to eliminate child labour in their supply chains must consider what types of services are needed – ensuring children are supported to enter and stay in school, counselling or other support specific to children’s needs, as well as support for families to better understand child labour and to meet their basic needs. Ensuring this support is available often requires collaboration and coordination with communities, governments and other stakeholders. If businesses take actions that are punitive or oversimplified, they may end up negatively impacting children’s rights in unanticipated ways.
Article 8 The right to an identity Children in farming communities may not be registered at birth or have a birth certificate. The birth certificate is an important document that helps employers to ensure that they don’t employ children underage. It can also help children and families access other important public services. Businesses can promote the right to an identity by ensuring that employees are given time off to be able to register their children. In addition businesses can seek ways to use their leverage to encourage Governments to put in place accessible processes for issuing birth certificates.
Article 9 The right to keeping the family together
Children have a right to be together with their parents or legal guardians. In extreme situations such as forced labour, such as where passports are taken away from employees, or employees are restricted from leaving or kept away from their families, the rights of children may also be adversely impacted.
Article 12 The right to be heard (one of the 4 general principles of the convention) A critical right in the CRC is the right of children to be heard and have their opinions taken into account on matters that affect them. Businesses can respect the right to be heard, by regularly including child consultations in their activities. Child labour prevention should always include inputs from children that come from meaningful consultation. However, since workers issues potentially have an impact on children as well, child consultations should be built into all human rights impacts assessments to get a full scope on how business activities impact different stakeholders. Children should be heard, their views taken seriously according to their age and maturity and taken into account in decision-making.
Article 16 The right to privacy Collecting data on children in situations of child labour is key to understand the scope and causes of the problem, develop solutions and track progress. Businesses can adversely impact the right to privacy, if they keep personal information of children and use and/or share this information without informed consent of the child and their parent/legal guardian as appropriate.
Businesses can respect the right to privacy by ensuring informed consent and responsible data management in alignment with a human rights-based approach, international standards and national law.
Article 18 Responsibility of parents
Parents have a shared the responsibility for the upbringing and development of their children, including education. When parents struggle to meet basic needs, education and other developmental activities may be deprioritized. Businesses can respect this right by providing decent work to their employees and by promoting skills training, income diversification and social protection measures throughout the supply chains.
Article 24 The right to health, water, food, environment
Children need clean water, healthy food, and a safe environment to grow and develop. Farms that employ children of legal working age should make sure that children have access to clean water and healthy food during work. Farms can adversely impact the right to health, water, food and environment of children at a larger scale. Extensive use of pesticides and other chemicals may contaminate local drinking water, which may result in adverse impact on health and food supply.
Article 27 The right to food, clothing, and a safe home
Due to the nature of the work in agriculture, migrant workers may be hired in for the season to accommodate high workloads on farms. These migrants sometimes live on the farm or in informal migrant communities. Employers can respect the right to food, clothing and a safe home by providing migrant workers and their families with adequate housing, sanitation and regular wages.
When not done with a right-based approach, business expansion may be associated with land grabbing or unfair land buying negotiations, which can force local families to move from their homes.
Article 28 The right to education Businesses can adversely impact the right to education, if children are not able to go to school due to work, whether or not they are of legal working age.
However, businesses can also promote the right to education by working with governments, communities and employees to ensure that children and young workers can go to school and have quality education opportunities within their local system.
A Rights-based Approach Can Help Make Impacts Positive
These are just some of many nuanced examples about how business activities are strongly linked to the full set of children’s rights. By taking a rights-based approach to addressing child labour and other rights abuses in supply chains, businesses can better understand these connections and turn their impacts into positive ones, rather than negative.