Business Action to Advance Children’s Rights – Leaders Summit 2022 Session



  • SANDA OJIAMBO, Assistant Secretary-General, UN, and CEO, United Nations Global Compact;
  • CATHERINE M. RUSSELL, Executive Director, UNICEF;
  • INGER ASHING Chief Executive Officer, Save the Children International;
  • LINH PHUONG NGUYEN, Executive Director, Management and Sustainable Development Institute;
  • MIKIKO OTANI, Chair, Committee on the Rights of the Child;
  • KAREN BASIYE, Director Sustainable Business and Social Impact, Safaricom;
  • VERONICA ROSSI, Senior Sustainability Manager, Lavazza;
  • EIJA PITKÄNEN, Sustainability Director and Ethics & Compliance and Risk Officer, Telia Finland PLC

A few of the key speakers from Business Action to Advance Children’s Rights Panel

Children have been disproportionately impacted by the ravages of the global challenges we’re currently facing, whether COVID-19, climate change, conflict, or issues of social justice.

In order to address such disparities and protect children, we need to have a global, unified plan of action. That was the message overwhelmingly endorsed by speakers in the “Business Action to Advance Children’s Rights” panel, part of the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit. This panel was jointly organized by the United Nations Global Compact, UNICEF, and Save the Children, and featured the highest-level officer of each of those three organizations. 

Among the many speakers at this plenary session, common goals and takeaways emerged. The first of these takeaways is that businesses influence children’s rights, and they have a collective responsibility to protect those rights. Even if a business does not directly interact with children, their products or practices could certainly have an effect.

“Business action and business inaction still impact children’s health, nutrition, education, and protection from violence, and exploitation, including child labor,” said Catherine M. Russell, Executive Director, UNICEF. 

Mikiko Otani, Chair, Committee on the Rights of the Child, further identifies intersections between child rights and other issues, including healthcare, sustainability and climate change, and privacy and exploitation on the internet.

“I hope our recommendations are more widely known to the business sector, so they can learn and understand their responsibilities and the role they can play in the promotion and protection of children’s rights,” said Otani.

Inger Ashing, Chief Executive Officer, Save the Children International, summarized, “Addressing business impacts on children’s rights needs to become business as usual.”

This panel, held on Day 1 of the two-day, 24-hour hybrid conference — the first panel after the intermission — highlighted the need for holistic business action to advance children’s rights in the workplace, marketplace and community.

The panel also marked the 10-year anniversary of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles — a set of guiding principles for businesses as relates to children in the workplace that was jointly developed by UNGC, UNICEF and Save the Children, the three organizing bodies of this panel. The anniversary served as a benchmark where businesses and civil service organizations tracked the progress made in the last ten years and outlined their next steps.

The discussion of how best to adhere to the CRBP and promote children’s rights more broadly in the workplace introduced another key goal: to elevate the voices of children in decision-making processes. 

“They [children] have the right to raise their voice,” said Linh Phuong Nguyen, Executive Director, Management and Sustainable Development Institute.

“Children are the real experts in their own lives and experiences,” Ashing agrees. “Their right to participate must be at the center of our work.”

Another common takeaway is that collaboration between businesses and civil service organizations is necessary to ensure that child participation and other CRBP goals are met. Panelists from businesses and nonprofits both cite collaboration as either a key point of progress or an area of improvement to be prioritized.

“Businesses must jointly advocate for the rights of children in collaboration with other stakeholders,” said Karen Basiye, Director of Sustainable Business and Social Impact, Safaricom. “We need a bold partnership.”

Eija Pitkänen, Sustainability Director and Ethics & Compliance and Risk Officer, Telia Finland PLC, describes the current business landscape. 

See related article: Reducing Inequalities to Advance Human Rights: The Role of Business – Leaders Summit 2022 Session

“There are changes to digitalization, to optimization, and also to adapt to a net zero society. This will affect children as well,” said Pitkänen. “Tackling these challenges can only be done in collaboration: collaborations between companies, with governments, with civil societies, and NGOs.”

This conversation also highlighted several challenges and the need for further action. A lack of trust between businesses and NGOs threatens collaboration. Businesses must also be made more aware of the actions they can take to protect children’s rights. Currently, there is a lack of understanding of the extent to which businesses influence children’s lives. There is an overuse of philanthropy as a solution, which does not directly address the issues businesses may cause.

“Make these very effective and practical [CRBP] principles more known in the business world,” said Veronica Rossi, Senior Sustainability Manager, Lavazza, “because it’s really important to know that every company can have an impact on the children’s lives.”

“Across the spectrum of children’s rights, there is so much more to do,” said Sanda Ojiambo, Assistant Secretary-General, UN, and CEO, United Nations Global Compact, in her closing remarks. “We cannot afford to hit the pause button.”

This article is part of a series covering the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit. The UN Global Compact (UNGC) Leaders Summit is an annual convening of global stakeholders from the UN, the public and private sectors, and civil society that takes stock of progress of the SDGs so far, and addresses the gaps in knowledge, resources, and funding. The 2022 Leaders Summit, like last year’s summit, will be a hybrid event of live and virtual speakers. Featured venues this year include an in-person event held in Bangkok, as well as virtual plenaries in Latin America, Australia, East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, in addition to UN Headquarters in New York. This inclusive global event — which will run continuously for more than 24 hours — aims to empower business leaders at every level to take collective action and inspire future leaders to embed a sustainability mindset in their work.

Written by Noah Lennon