Child rights overlooked by big business, finds MENA forum

Children rank poorly on business agendas in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with only 11 per cent of corporate social schemes looking at business’ impact on children

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is dead and businesses should shift instead towards looking at their impact on society – and particularly children – as part of daily business rather than an add-on, according to one of the Middle East’s leading investment firms.

“There has been a slow but sure shift to take a stakeholder, not just shareholder, approach,” Frederic Sicre, partner at Abraaj Capital, a member of the UN Global Compact, said at the Global Child Forum in Dubai.

Children are often overlooked as one of those stakeholders, experts at the forum said. Children rank poorly on business agendas in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with only 11 per cent of corporate social schemes looking at business’ impact on children, a survey unveiled at the forum revealed. This contrasts with high levels of corporate giving – by some 42 per cent of companies in the region – to children’s charities, according to the report by Boston Consulting Group.

Forum panellists urged companies to place the same emphasis on making sure their internal business policies do not harm minors as they do on charitable giving to children.

“Businesses need to be more aware about their responsibilities, to understand the impact of the products they produce, adverts they place in the media and company policies,” said Manal Wazani, CEO of Save the Children Jordan.

In 2012, a UN-led network of NGOs and businesses agreed 10 principles for how corporations can make sure their operations do not harm minors. The Children’s Rights and Business Principles cover issues such as eliminating child labour, keeping children safe from abuse at work and making sure product marketing does not sexualise children. The MENA region scored a woeful 0.9 out of nine on reporting businesses’ compliance with these principles, said the study. Europe scored the highest with 4.5, while the global average was still low – at 3.4 out of nine.

“I don’t think CSR is dead,” said Howard Taylor, managing director, Nike Foundation. “But what is true is you can’t just do CSR and have it silo-ed from your core business. Everything you do matters.”

There are three key things businesses can do to enhance protection of children’s rights, said Bo Nylund, chief of CSR for UN children’s agency, UNICEF. UNICEF recommends businesses collaborate with NGOs on social investment programmes, promote innovation and share technical knowledge to solve bottlenecks in programme delivery, and do internal assessments of their own impact on children’s rights.

The UN Global Compact is a voluntary grouping of corporations committed to promoting the respect of human rights in business, particularly when it comes to labour rights, the environment and anti-corruption. Some 12,000 companies from 145 countries are members of the initiative.