Child Safeguarding: A Toolkit for Business

Article One recently partnered with UNICEF to develop a Child Safeguarding Toolkit for Business. The toolkit outlines the importance of safeguarding child rights which at its most basic entails the prevention of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and maltreatment by employees and other persons whom the company is responsible for, such as partners, visitors to corporate premises or volunteers.

Child safeguarding has been front and center in the news over the last year, highlighting the extent, severity and long-term impacts abuse can have. From the recent debate surrounding development agencies and insufficient child safeguarding measures against sexual exploitation, to the case of USA Gymnastics’ doctor Larry Nasser abusing over 150 girls and allegations of abuse of child migrants in privately owned US detention centers. These cases emphasize the risks of private actors being responsible for the wellbeing of vulnerable children. As these examples show, companies and organizations who come in to direct contact with children must ensure safeguarding procedures are in place.

The Toolkit outlines a six-step process for companies to ensure they are safeguarding child rights across their operations. The guidance outlined in the Toolkit is informed by the practical experiences of companies that have established child safeguarding policies and programs, as well as the ongoing work of UNICEF and Article One in developing human rights and business guidance. The materials have been developed and tested as part of a three-year partnership between UNICEF and The LEGO Group.

As Kathrine Kirk Muff, Vice President Social Responsibility and Engagement at the LEGO Group stated: “Everything we do at the LEGO Group is for and about the child. They are our role models. Therefore, operating a responsible business towards children has always been at the core of our values and actions, starting with a relentless focus on safe high-quality products. Through our partnership with UNICEF we have further strengthened our child safeguarding policies to ensure the children we interact with are engaging in safe physical and digital play experiences. We hope this Toolkit will inspire and provide guidance to other companies seeking to implement a child rights approach to their business.”

We also hope this Toolkit will inspire others to assess their safeguarding risks. To that end, we sat down with UNICEF’s Ida Hyllested and Riina Kasurinen to discuss how companies should think about child safeguarding.

1. What is child safeguarding and why does it matter for business?

Most companies encounter children at some point during their business activities, for example through direct sales, business travel or events, or indirectly through online contact with children and their data. For companies, child safeguarding refers to the actions a company takes to keep children they come into contact with safe. The aim is to prevent any physical, sexual and emotional abuse and maltreatment or neglect towards children by employees and other persons whom the company is responsible for, including contractors, business partners, visitors to premises and volunteers.

There is increased recognition of the global nature and scale of child abuse and maltreatment; 1 in 2 of the world’s children have suffered physical, sexual or emotional violence or neglect in the past year. These statistics are heart-breaking, and the impacts of abuse on children’s development and well-being can be severe and long-lasting. Every company, whose employees or business partners engage with children (face-to-face or online) has a legal and moral duty of care to do all it can to protect children from harm. A child safeguarding policy and program provides companies with a formal approach to ensuring the well-being of children, while also protecting the company, its employees and reputation.

Child safeguarding is also a foundational pillar of UNICEF’s efforts to promote better business for children. With our new Child Safeguarding Toolkit we want to help companies analyze child-related risks and make decisions that are good for children and good for business.

 

2. How is child safeguarding different from respecting and promoting child rights?

Freedom from abuse is every child’s right, and safeguarding children against abuse is one part of a company’s responsibility to respect and support child rights. But corporate responsibilities extend to ensure that child rights – from the right to education and health to the right to be free from child labor and discrimination – are respected in all aspects of business activities. This includes not only safeguarding against abuses by employees and partners, but also ensuring that child rights are respected at each stage of the company’s value chain, beginning with the procurement of raw materials and continuing on to the use of products and services by end users, including children.

 

3. Are there certain industries or departments where child safeguarding is a particular concern?

Child safeguarding is relevant for all companies, of all sizes and at different levels of maturity across industries in addressing their sustainability and corporate responsibility challenges. The level of child safeguarding risks varies from company to company, but just as the implications for children’s safety may surface in various situations, abuse takes many forms: a company employee might engage in child sexual abuse while travelling for business, a child might be bullied or groomed while using an online chat room hosted by a staff member, be subjected to inadequate data protection, or experience harmful or inappropriate conduct while modelling for an advertisement.

All companies should carry out at an assessment as the first step to understanding the risks their business activities might pose to children’s wellbeing through interaction with the company, its employees or its representatives. A company that regularly comes into contact with children – directly or indirectly – should seek support and guidance and work with a safeguarding expert.

 

4. What recommendations does UNICEF’s Child Safeguarding Toolkit outline for companies to better manage child safeguarding risks?

The toolkit guides companies through six steps in the process of developing a child safeguarding program. It outlines procedures for setting up a child safeguarding policy, rolling out the implementation plan and addressing and reporting potential allegations of inappropriate behavior towards children. It also provides guidance for employees on how to take relevant action when being faced with potential or actual safeguarding risks:

Step 1: Conduct a child safeguarding risk assessment that reveals the ways in which employees and partners acting on behalf of the company come into direct or indirect contact with children.

Step 2: Conduct a gap analysis of existing policies, processes and governance structures that may support the safeguarding of children, and develop additional structures and guidance to fill relevant gaps.

Step 3: Develop a policy commitment that outlines the company’s commitment to keep children safe from abuse and maltreatment by its employees and partners acting on its behalf.

Step 4: Develop an implementation plan to meet the commitments outlined in the safeguarding policy.

Step 5: Establish a reporting structure for actual and potential cases of abuse to be received and processed.

Step 6: Provide guidance for employees on how to take relevant action when a concern is / needs to be reported.

Ensuring that all employees – from the facilities custodian to the CEO – are aware of the company’s commitment and their corresponding responsibility is a vital step towards creating a rights-aware culture. This aims to make sure that child safeguarding is embedded throughout every aspect of the business, and that everyone understands how to identify and respond to a safeguarding ‘red flag’.

Successful child safeguarding in business is an ongoing journey that involves continuous review and revision of policies and implementation. At the heart of the effort is a company culture that identifies child safeguarding as a business priority and recognizes that the responsibility of translating child safeguarding policies into practice lies with every single employee and business partner.

Throughout the toolkit, there are scenarios from various business environments are used to demonstrate the work in practice.

 


For any additional information and questions, please contact Ida Hyllested, Corporate Alliances Manager at ihyllested@unicef.org or Riina Kasurinen, Child Rights and Business Partnership Manager at rkasurinen@unicef.org