Children’s rights discussed at UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

The 2019 UN Forum on Business and Human Rights focused on the role of governments as catalysts for business respect for human rights. Participants discussed what needs to be done by governments to meet their duty to protect against business-related human rights abuses. The agenda considered the Guiding Principles’ call for “a smart mix of measures – national and international, mandatory and voluntary – to foster business respect for human rights” and what this means in practice.

The Forum covered a wide range of thematic areas, including children’s rights:

In the call for governments to promote greater coherence in responsible business, Dante Pesce, Chairperson of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights stressed that “governments and businesses need to give voice to the invisible and put them on the agenda – children cannot be lost in translation”. Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Assistant Secretary-General and UNICEF, Deputy Executive Director reminded that the government’s role to “protect” and businesses’ role to “respect” children’s rights needs to involve all sectors, including travel and tourism and ICT. She stressed that the respect for children’s rights cannot be considered as “nice to have” but a “must-have”. Human rights due diligence processes cannot overlook impacts on children nor consider them as secondary to those of adults. Finally, she said that government action is essential to scale up action by business in addressing adverse impacts on children.

The ILO, OECD, IOM and UNICEF under the aegis of Alliance 8.7 presented the report “Ending child labour, forced labour and human trafficking in global supply chains” that brought together data from each of the agencies and recognized the interconnectedness of many of issues affecting children. The report calls upon business to leverage solutions at local level by addressing the root causes of social and economic vulnerabilities. The report recognized that it is difficult to capture data related to human trafficking and we need to be cautious in their interpretation, while for child labour reliable statistics are more easily accessible. Read the report here.

Another important topic was state strategies to protect human rights defenders from attacks or the abuse of their rights, particularly in cases where defenders are targeted for their work to address impacts of business activities. States were urged to ensure that the legitimate activities of human rights defenders are not obstructed and that defenders are protected. Read more about the session here.

National Action Plans (NAPs) on Business and Human Rights were discussed during the UN Business and Human Rights Forum as instrumental in ensuring that there is mutual reinforcement among various mechanisms applicable at national, regional and international level. An ongoing project on Responsible Business Conduct in Latin America and the Caribbean aims to promote responsible business conduct in line with international standards and includes supporting the development and/or implementation of NAPs, read more here. A regional consultation organized in the framework of this project recognized that children’s rights need to be streamlined in the NAPs, read more here. In other regions, several countries are developing NAPs. For the list of the NAPs consult https://globalnaps.org.

In line with the recommendations of the Global Study, ECPAT calls upon national governments to explicitly include children’s rights in all NAPs and government action. Governments should develop mandatory policies to protect children in new public and private developments, including the obligation to conduct thorough human-rights impact assessments. Government-regulated child protection standards for the travel and tourism industry also need to be established and enforced. Furthermore, governments should create incentives for companies to prioritize child protection.

UN Business and Human Rights Guiding Principles urge governments to integrate mandatory, voluntary, national and international measures. Legislation is the core element of this mix and a strong drive for companies to adopt such measures, however, it is not enough and requires integrating human rights due diligence processes.

Human rights due diligence in practice in the tourism sector – read more in the report from 2018 UN Business and Human Rights Forum, here.

UNWTO Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics is a major step towards tackling child exploitation, read more here.

The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children in Travel and Tourism, read more here.

ECPAT attended 2019 UN Business and Human Rights Forum together with Rafto Foundation that supports work of individuals and organizations that promote human rights, read more here.