Walking the Talk
North American Companies Lag Behind in Protecting Children’s Rights

New global benchmark study, released today, shows that companies worldwide are making incremental positive changes to protect children’s rights, but need to significantly accelerate the pace, as risks continue to outpace progress.

Global Child Forum — a Stockholm-based nonprofit foundation founded by the Swedish Royal Family to promote children’s rights — today announced the results of its 2019 global benchmark study, showing that companies worldwide are making incremental positive changes to protect children’s rights, but need to significantly accelerate the pace, as risks continue to outpace progress.

The State of Children’s Rights and Business: From Promise to Practice, conducted in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group, analyzed just under 700 of the world’s largest companies, and how they are safeguarding children’s rights as part of their business value chain. It marks Global Child Forum’s second global benchmark since 2014.

“Our report demonstrates that companies are starting to understand the specificity of children’s rights issues within a corporate context and want to make a positive difference,” said Cajsa Wiking, Secretary General at Global Child Forum. “However, we also found that many companies need to go beyond having formal policies in place, and actually put them in practice through implementation and integration in company operations and supply chains.”

Methodology

The benchmark tracks 692 of the world’s largest companies by revenue across nine industries and six geographic regions. Companies are given an overall weighted scored based on their performance on three issue categories, on a scale of 0-10:

  • Workplace: Policies and reporting around working conditions

  • Marketplace: Policies and programs related to protecting children as consumers

  • Community & Environment: Policies and reporting around company impact on the community and environment, and how this affects children as a distinct stakeholder group

Additional details on the methodology are included in the full benchmark report. Timed with the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the report represents the most extensive assessment of how the corporate sector is doing on integrating children’s rights into their operations, and their relations with communities. Click here for a full list of company scores.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Overall improvement across industries and regions compared to 2014: Companies have improved their overall scores pertaining to reporting on child rights indicators, with the largest improvements observed within Oil, Gas & Utilities and Industrials. Telecommunications & Technology companies have the highest overall average performance score, followed by Industrials and Basic Materials.

  • North American companies trail behind: North American companies lag behind their counterparts in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Compared to European companies, they are behind in board accountability, materiality assessment and supplier assessment; and particularly, in reporting on incidents/risk of child labor. Though, a few North American companies do stand out as ‘Leaders’ — including Apple (8.2), AT&T (8.1), Coca-Cola (8.7), Intel (8.7), Kimberly-Clark (8.2), Nike (8.5) and Philip Morris International (8.6), which is actively working to eliminate child labor from its tobacco supply chain.

  • Failing children as a distinct consumer group: Among the three issue pillars analyzed for the benchmark, companies across the board scored the lowest on indicators related to protecting children as consumers through responsible marketing and product safety.

  • Initiatives not part of a broader strategy: Many companies have yet to view children’s rights as a strategic priority, as opposed to philanthropy — which results in ad-hoc initiatives focusing on short-term needs (such as one-off charity projects) and not a longer-term vision.

  • Marked gap between promise and practice: While many companies have policies in place to safeguard children’s rights, most are behind in demonstrating their implementation. Among the companies that explicitly prohibit child labor, less than half (43 percent) report any kind of supplier assessment and only 33 percent maintain board oversight over children’s issues.

  • Getting the board on board: More corporate boards see children’s rights as a distinct issue — with 30 percent of companies addressing it at the board level, compared to 13 percent in 2014. However, the report shows that boards need to engage more actively and demonstrate a clearer commitment at the highest level in the company.

“The risks to children in a business context go well beyond child labor, as companies affect children through their products and services, marketing methods, relationships with local and national governments, and investments in local communities,” said Johan Öberg, Managing Director and Senior Partner at Boston Consulting Group. “The 2019 benchmark highlights clear opportunities for the business community to make a more significant difference by improving reporting, accountability and a better understanding of how children are impacted by business practices.”

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