In line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) as well as the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), “and the ILO Minimum Age Convention (No. 138), a child is a person below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”.
While children are one third of the world’s population and, thus, play a significant role in the global economy – as consumers, young workers (see: ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), family members of workers, future workers or employers, as well as members of the communities and environments in which business operates – they are also one of the most vulnerable groups exposed to negative impacts from business. As stated by the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie, “[c]hildren are among the most marginalized and vulnerable members of society and can be disproportionately, severely, and permanently impacted by business activities, operations, and relationships”.+ Read more
Businesses can impact the rights of children in various ways. Adverse impacts on children’s rights may be linked to, for example, marketing (e.g. advertisements promoting ‘unrealistic body images that can lead to eating disorders; promotion of breast milk substitutes for babies under the age of 6 months), distribution of products (e.g. violent computer games, gender-specific toys that influence perception of male/female roles), environmental and land impacts (affecting the ability of local communities s to sustain themselves, as well as affecting their health and right to food and water, which disproportionately impact on children). Where companies pay insufficient wages to sustain families, the right to education of children may be affected, with children dropping out of school and going to work to help supplement family income.
According to the ILO , approximately 168 million children worldwide are engaged in some form of child labour, with more than half of them, 85 million, involved in hazardous work. Most child labourers work in the informal economy; they can be found working in the agricultural sector (98 million, or 59%), followed by services (54 million) and industry (12 million). Children are also among the most vulnerable to human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
In 2013, The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted General Comment 16 on State obligations regarding the impact of the business sector on children’s rights. The General Comment includes guidance on the measures of implementation that are required to prevent and remedy violations of child rights by businesses, and ensure businesses carry out their responsibilities in the realisation of the rights of the child and encourage them to positively contribute to the realisation of these rights. Further guidance material has since been developed to advise governments on how to ensure that all business activities respect children’s rights. A useful guide for States on how to implement UN CRC General Comment 16 was published by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and UNICEF in 2015.
The Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR), the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and UNICEF developed the Children’s Rights in NAPs on Business and Human Rights, as guidance on how children’s rights should be considered in the process of developing NAPs.
An example of government efforts in this area is the US Executive Order 13126 on the “Prohibition of Acquisition of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor” (1999). This requires federal contractors who supply products on The List of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor published by the Department of Labor to certify that they have made good faith efforts to determine whether forced or indentured child labour was used to produce the items listed.
Another example is the Dutch ‘Child Labour Due Diligence Law’, which was adopted by the lower house of the Dutch Parliament in 2017. The law will require companies to determine whether child labour exists in their supply chains and set out a plan of action on how to combat it. This law is awaiting approval by the Senate. If approved, companies covered by the law will have to submit a statement to regulatory authorities declaring that they have carried out due diligence related to child labour in their full supply chains.
Interesting examples of national implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes through legislation regulating a range of marketing practices by the private sector are provided in an annual status report.
Children’s Rights relate to the following Sustainable Development Goals