Child-friendly businesses

“Child-friendly should be as natural as eco-friendly”
Secretary General Elisabet Dahlin at Save the Children Sweden with Per Heggenes, CEO at IKEA Foundation. Our global partnership with IKEA and the IKEA Foundation started 20 years ago.
Linda Forsell

In a global effort, Save the Children Sweden, led by former Secretary General Dahlin, teamed up with UNICEF and the UN Global Compact to develop the Children’s Rights and Business Principles. Below are some of Secretary General Dahlin’s responses to critical questions about this very important initiative.

Why does a children’s NGO engage business?

– When we started to talk about what business could do for children, we received strange looks from some people who were curious as to why we were getting involved with business. It really comes down to our own strong conviction that we needed to engage those who are in a position to bring about positive change for children. And when we look at those societal actors who actually can bring about such change, we see that business has a great role to play.

– Save the Children, together with many other NGOs, has been effective in influencing civil society, as well as the children’s rights agendas of various governments. In many cases, though, governments simply do not have the necessary instruments or indeed the strength to do all that needs to be done for children. This is particularly so in fragile states or in those countries where a legal framework might exist but is not adhered to. Companies, on the other hand, can do a lot in these contexts.

How was the idea of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles brought to life?

– It started out with a morning coffee at the Global Compact office in New York on the day President Obama was inaugurated. I was talking to Georg Kell (the former Executive Director of the UN Global Compact) about what the framework of John Ruggie’s Human Rights and Business Principles would actually mean for children. As children are often overlooked in the bigger picture, I introduced the idea of making a set of principles that specifically focused on children’s rights. Hence, Save the Children, UN Global Compact and UNICEF teamed up and started a global process of consultations with children and businesses to assess the impact of business operations on children’s rights.

How were the Principles received by the business sector when they were launched?

– Business representatives have responded very positively to the Principles. David Ford from Alfa Laval, for example, felt that this set of Principles was the missing piece of the sustainability agenda. David had come to the launch wondering what he was going to do with another set of 10 principles, but he was, in the end, convinced that the Children’s Rights and Business Principles formed the core that could help drive change in all other aspects of sustainability. I agree. When one looks at the Principles, one finds a great framework for a company’s sustainability strategy. The Principles actually do cover all aspects of responsibility.

What is your vision for the work for child rights and business?

– Being a child-friendly company should be as natural as being an environmentally-friendly company. Your business can create value by supporting child survival, development, and protection through its products and services, its policies, and also within its sphere of influence. By highlighting children’s rights in strategies and business operations, you are strengthening your responsibility, your reputation and your brand. A child-friendly business, then, can increase employees’ motivation and productivity, and inform talent management. It attracts investors, engenders trust, and creates a competitive advantage.