20 Oct 2015
Children’s Rights and Business Principles in the face of rapid urbanisation and migration

According to data from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) there are 214 million international migrants, and another 740 internal (within national boundaries) migrants. That is close to one billion people, or one in every seven people on the planet. According to the ILO, two-thirds of these migrants are under the age 24.

Children and youth when they migrate with or without their parents are vulnerable to exploitation. This is one of the reasons why the Global Compact, UNICEF and Save the Children organized a regional event in Kuala Lumpur on 6 October 2015 on the topic of Children’s Rights and Business Principles.

The event involved two panel discussions. The first dealt with urbanization and migrant workers and the speakers included Brendan Barrett (Global Compact Cities Programme), Ines Kaempfer (Centre for Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility), Bruce Kafter (Flextronics) and Paniti Chantayasakorn (Sansiri PCL).

The second panel discussion explored the provision of decent work to young workers, parents and caregivers. The panelists included Jake Law (Concord), Zahidul Hassan (UNICEF), Chee Keong Lai (Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition) and Greg Priest (IKEA).

Both discussions were moderated by Veronica Pedrosa, an independent journalist formerly with the BBC and Al Jazeera, who successfully maintained a fast-paced and engaging conversation.

One of the key observations that emerged in the discussions was the fact that it is the secondary cities in Asia (population between 100,000 to 500,000) of which there are over 500 according to the World Bank, that are struggling to cope with the fast pace of urban development. This means that they are unable to provide the services that their growing population needs and the consequence is the spread of informal settlements.

At the same time, businesses across the region tend to locate their factories with a focus on various strategic goals such as access to transportation links or proximity of firms that form part of their supply chain. Less attention is paid to the workforce availability and as a consequence these businesses need to cast their net widely in order to recruit their employees, even across national borders.

Over time, however, the sustainability of this approach has increasingly been called into question. The best indicator of the fact that it is not working is the relatively high turnover of the workforce at these facilities, as high as 30 per cent. Bearing in mind the costs of recruiting and training staff in the first place, this represents a major investment loss for the businesses.

Up until now, due to the fact that the city governments are unable to provide for local housing need, the businesses have tended to construct worker dormitories on site and to provide for basic worker needs including all meals. However, it has been recognized that dormitory life has negative psychological impacts, particularly in cases where young workers have children back in their home towns.

As a result, the more enlightened corporations have begun to include family accommodation at their facilities and kindergartens to ensure that the parents can remain close to their children. In cases where these measures have been implemented the turnover of the workforce has dropped from 30 per cent to 3 per cent. The companies involved have noted that this makes good business and financial sense.

Unfortunately, at present, these progressive measures are the exception rather than the rule in Asia. It was obvious from the panel discussions, however, that this will have to change, and quickly, especially if our collective goal is to better protect the rights of children.

Report: Dr Brendan Barrett . Dr Barrett holds the position of Research Coordinator with the Global Compact Cities  Programme. He is also a Research Fellow, RMIT University; Visiting Associate Professor, University of Tokyo, Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science; Visiting Expert, United Nations University – Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability; Member of the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication; and Advisor on Science Communication to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.

Additional Information

UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children have developed the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (the Principles) , the first comprehensive set of principles to guide companies on the full range of actions they can take in the workplace, marketplace and community to respect and support children’s rights.

The Global Compact Cities Programme and the World Vision International Centre of Expertise for Urban Programming have worked collaboratively on pilot projects on poverty reduction and children’s rights in the urban context.