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Respecting Rights adds to the Quiver of the Responsible Corporation

Published: Sunday, June 19, 2011

International Days of Observance cross our sight lines regularly. The UN has designated just over 100 such days or weeks throughout the year, reminding us of some of the world's most serious challenges and neglected issues.

Some designated days are heralded in with much aplomb, having galvanized the world's attention. Others, for no apparent reason, don't create much of a stir and slip right on by.

World Day Against Child Labour

June 12 marked World Day Against Child Labour and from where I stood the day passed without incident. Sure, organizations like UNICEF and the ILO set about their missions to remind us of the scope, magnitude and nuances surrounding the issue. But I find it curious why this particular June 12 didn't drive more conversation to springboard to the spotlight some of the important efforts occurring to advance the elimination of the most harmful forms of child exploitation, the promotion of children's rights and nascent best practices.

Three years ago, Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), the Norwegian Government's Pension Investment Fund, introduced a child labour risk assessment tool to score corporate compliance of its portfolio companies. The NBIM issues an annual report demonstrating its own vigilance and this year, for the first time, it has taken an important step to name the companies which meet its expectations on children's rights.

Perfect Scores

Among the 527 companies surveyed from the 8,700 strong investor portfolio, nine companies received a 10 out of 10 score from NBIM for their disclosure on children's rights, and specifically, child labour. Intel, Motorola Inc, Anglo American Plc, Walt Disney Co, Phillips-Van Heusen Corp, Gildan Activewear Inc., Xstrata Plc, Hennes & Mauritz AB and Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson each make reference to their policies and practices on their websites and I'm certain they would provide additional information when asked.

So, what was NBIM looking for? Included among its 10 indicators are the presence of a policy on child labour, a risk analysis, preventive and corrective action plans for child labour, supply chain management systems for child labour, systems in place to prevent adverse effects of the company's actions on children, a transparent governance structure for children's rights policies and programmes and the integration of social impact analysis into strategic business planning.

The average score for the companies surveyed was 2.2; 232 companies scored 'zero' -a dismal showing, unable to claim, at a minimum, the existence of a policy.

Of course we need to celebrate the achievers, the leaders. Yet, let us not lose sight of those who aspire to influence best practices.

Knowing about the NBIM initiative, it should then come as no surprise to anyone that it was the Norwegian Government on June 16 which tabled the recommendation to the UN Human Rights Council to adopt the Guiding Principles on Business and human rights. The Norwegian government has been a long standing proponent of the promotion and protection of children's rights.

The Guiding Principles on Business and human rights

The Guiding Principles on Business and human rights are the culmination of hundreds of consultations with governments, business and civil society over the past six years led by UN Secretary General Special Advisor and Harvard Professor, John Ruggie. Human rights have now been squarely planted on the path of responsible businesses. "The Guiding Principles reinforce the States' obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and fundamental freedoms; the role of business enterprises to comply with all applicable laws and to respect human rights; and the need for rights and obligations to be matched to appropriate and effective remedies when breached.

These Guiding Principles apply to all States and to all business enterprises, both transnational and others, regardless of their size, sector, location, ownership and structure. These Guiding Principles are to be understood as a coherent whole and are to be read, individually and collectively, in terms of their objective of enhancing standards and practices with regard to business and human rights so as to achieve tangible results for affected individuals and communities, and thereby also contribute to socially sustainable globalization."

Children's Rights and Business Principles Initiative

To build on the momentum of Ruggie's work, an equally important consultative process was launched in June 2010 to examine the intersection of business and children's rights. The Children's Rights and Business Principles Initiative is a collaborative effort between UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children. The on-line consultation, offers a treasure trove of resources to satisfy the appetites of different engagement styles including a two page concept note, 10 page executive summary and 12 page Draft Principles (required reading) before completing the on-line questionnaire. The consultation on Children's Rights and Business Principles Initiative has been extended to July 15 2011 with document release scheduled for November 2011. You have four more weeks; why not check it out and participate in the process. Bring your experience to the table and influence change.

What do you expect from the CRBP? How would you like to see the November report unfold?

Always happy to provide a soapbox and some tunes to celebrate change.

photo credit: Peter Dickie 'Number 07' January 2009 via flickr