Relationship between Children Rights with Business and CSR:
Business and Children Rights: International Legal Framework:
Socio-Economic Context of Child Labour and Child Rights in Bangladesh:
Gaps: A Way Forward:
Concluding Remarks: A Compelling Case of Partnership
International and National Discourse of Business and Children’s Rights: Bangladesh Perspective
The idea of business and human rights is an emerging concept of international law. Human rights are greatly influenced, positively or negatively, by the business activities of transnational corporations, industries and business enterprises. Consequently, business and children’s rights are comparatively new and evolving agenda in international human rights law. Children’s rights both as right holders and stakeholders have been affected by business activities. This article focuses on two basic questions. Firstly: how business activities affect the rights of children, especially child labourer’s rights in the context of Bangladesh; and secondly: whether the laws and regulations of domestic and international law is sufficient to redress the violation of children’s rights. The article’s premise is to find what should be the role of different actors in connection to the rights of children affected by the activities of business. The article concentrates on United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights, the UNICEF Global Compact and Save the Children “Children’s rights and Business Principles known as CRB Principles” (May-2012) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment no.16 which deals with the obligations of states in relation to business and children’s rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child, ILO Convention on the Worst Form of Child labour and ILO
Minimum Age Convention. Finally it deals with guidelines used by the government, Human Rights Commission, NGOs and civil society to identify and manage children’s rights in connection to business.
Corporate Social Responsibility, Children’s Rights, Business, International Human Rights, UN Global Impact, Worst Form of Child Labour, Hazardous Work.
Businesses impact on human rights in many and diverse ways, such as producing products like fast foods, tobacco which can potentially impact on health. Some businesses and industries, such as brick fields, tanneries, and insecticides have enormous impacts on the environment and cause environmental degradation by way of air, water, soil and sound pollution. Industries such as the extractive sector (gas/oil/mining), food and beverages, apparel and footwear, IT and communications and the pharmaceutical sector are held responsible for most violation of labour rights, corruption, and environmental degradation. This growing concept of business and human rights has also multifaceted impacts on children rights. Therefore, it is an evolving international agenda relating to child rights.
Children are the future leaders of the world. Childhood encompasses a very unique period of physical, mental, psychological and spiritual development, and their proper development signifies the picture of a healthy world. Violations of their rights like the worst form of child labour, exposure to violence, use of unsafe and hazardous products certainly cause permanent, irreversible and transgenerational consequences which definitely poses a threat to the future of the World. Due to globalised business operations i.e. open market economy, ongoing trend of decentralization, outsourcing and privatisation of state functions, the business sectors’ impact on children rights has emerged more in the last decades than it was before. Like human rights, children’s rights are universal, inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. Nevertheless, it is usually more or less challenging for the children to obtain remedy where their rights are violated because they are politically voiceless, have little influence over governance systems. In most of the cases, states do not take their issues into account while legislating business related laws and simultaneously, business enterprises adopt policies without reference to children’s rights. Accordingly, this issue attracts international communities’ attention and therefore, different international and national mechanisms have been developed on how to mitigate the violations caused by business activities. This essay at the outset, deals with the relationship between children’s rights with business in light of CSR and tries to show with practical references how business impacts on children’s rights. Therefore, the article focuses on international mechanisms for the protection of children’s rights affected by business activities. The second part concentrates on children’s rights, especially child labour rights in the socio-economic context of Bangladesh along with the role of actors regarding the issue. In the last part of the article, efforts have been given to sort out the gaps, and to provide some guidelines to mitigate and manage violation of children rights in relation to business.
Relationship between Children Rights with Business and CSR:
The relation between children’s rights and business is relatively new topic in international fora. The impact of business on children is diverse that includes both positive and negative influences. Businesses have positive impacts on children by providing access to education, creating opportunities to rest and play and by supporting their parents. Similarly, it has some negative impacts on children’s rights by way of employing them in unsafe and hazardous work especially in developing and poor countries where child labour is a sheer reality. Accordingly, the negative influences of business ultimately have an enormous impact on the children and their families, and subsequently it affects the health of communities and countries as well as the international reputation and relations with other states. Accordingly, the business enterprises are under an obligation towards societies for the protection and promotion of human rights other than their business activities which is known as ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’. In early writings, corporate social responsibility meant and referred to the social responsibility of the businessmen in the course of their business activities. In today’s world, the idea of CSR includes the responsibility of business corporations which are not only denoting their economic and legal obligations but also signifies certain responsibilities towards society to promote and protect human rights. In a broad sense, it can be said that business enterprises are under an obligation to conduct their business in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner and their commitment to their stakeholders to promote and respect human rights. Different international organisations such as World Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and development (OECD) and International Labour Organisation have taken various strategies in order to implement the social responsibility of business enterprises. CSR practice is increasing day by day to thousands of companies all over the world, and they are competing in order to get recognition of international community by focusing different issues such as the environment, labour and human rights. CSR is also appreciated by the governments. The recent practices of business enterprises i.e. 12,000 business and non-business organisation and 145 countries to join in the UN Global Compact, the largest International CSR initiative (UNGC 2013) which clearly shows the relation between business and human rights. But when the business enterprises lack this responsibility, accident occurred and human rights are violated.
The Bhopal gas tragedy is one of the worst chemical disasters in the history of the violation of human rights by business activities that the world had ever seen. On December, 2 1984, chemical disaster in the plant of Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) in Bhopal, India caused the single biggest air pollution due to the leakage of 35 tons of poisonous MIC gas and immediately took 2259 innocent lives and left ten thousands of innocent people who were rendered permanently physically impaired or partially handicapped to various degrees. It also had an enormous impact on water, soils, river, and pond and adversely affected in foetuses, newly born babies, pregnant women and young and old people. It killed more than 3,000 animals and innumerable micro-organisms. Underinvestment in safety measures and allowance for a dangerous working environment, the filling of MIC tanks beyond recommended levels, poor maintenance in the operations of safety systems, switching off safety systems to save money including the MIC tank refrigeration and absence of catastrophe plans, lack of emergency action plans, insufficient skilled operators are identified as the reasons for the disaster which necessarily involve corporate negligence i.e. lack of CSR of Union Carbide Corporation.
The Chernobyl disaster that occurred on 26 April, 1986 was another terrible nuclear plant accident and 237 people suffered from Acute Radiation Sickness (ARS) of whom 31 died within the first three months and as long term effects, cancer is still being identified. The human factor is considered as one of the causes for the disaster as well as deficiency in safety culture and faulty designs of nuclear power plant in Chernobyl.
Most recently in 2006, the Trafigura accident caused 17 known deaths and 30,000 people from Ivory Coast have been affected in various degrees. The dumping also caused health hazards and environmental degradation. Similarly in Bangladesh, the Magurchara Gas explosion of 14 June, 1997 not only caused billions of cubic gas burnt but also posed a serious threat to environment, ecology and wildlife in Bangladesh. After that, on January 7 and June 17, 2005 the gas explosion of Niko’s Tengratila gas field not only caused 625 families homeless but also it had a terrible impact on soil, air and water. Niko marked 37 tube-wells of the locality and instructed the inhabitants not to use those as gas was coming out from the tube wells and therefore, it is evident that the damage to environment is far greater than the financial loss caused by the accident. The most recent accident of the collapse of the building named ‘Rana Plaza’ was the devastating industrial disaster in the readymade garment sector of Bangladesh shortly after the fire outbreak in Tazreen factory. The fire break in Tazreen consumed 112 lives and the Rana Plaza tragedy took 1137 garments workers’ lives and 2500 workers including children were injured. Before the tragedy, workers noticed large cracks in the walls of the building and refused to work, but they were forced to work, and were told that otherwise they would not get their daily wages. A bank in this building had closed their operations for safety reasons, but the factories did not close their operations in spite of sufficient warnings to shut factories for safety reasons. Consequently the irresponsibility of the factories owners led Bangladesh to face the deadliest RMG sector accident at the cost of 1137 worker’s lives.
From all the incidents, Children’s rights are violated both in direct and indirect ways. Children whose parents died or suffered from permanent or partial disability, their rights to family life were affected. In the Bhopal accident, MIC gas affected 520,000 among whom 200,000 were below 15 years of age, 3,000 were pregnant women. Later on a vast number of children were born with malformations and brain damages. From the Chernobyl accident, it was observed that in Greece, more than 2,500 pregnancies being terminated due to the fear of radiation risk and the number is slightly above in Italy. Medical examinations were carried on within the framework of the WHO International Programme on the Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident (IPHECA) Chernobyl Saskawa Project in the three countries since 1991 of about 210,000 children and it was found that thyroid cancer including childhood thyroid diseases was significantly increased due to the accident and thyroid cancer incidence of Gomel region of Belarus has increased 100 times higher than it were before the accident. From the accidents of Rana Plaza, many children lost their parents and again many workers are not in position of working anymore, and as a result, their children are bound to work to earn their livelihood. Accordingly, the business activities have close-relation with children’s rights and sometimes it severely affects the children’s rights by their activities.
Business and Children Rights: International Legal Framework:
International organisations always play an important role to promote and protect human rights and obviously for the same reason international organisations had also played a significant role in 1970 through their first negotiations to determine the relation between human rights and business in international law. As a result, draft norms on transnational corporations was first adopted by the UN Sub-Commission on the promotion and protection of human rights and submitted before the UN Human Rights Commission for their consideration in 2003, but the process to codify the business responsibility in international law was failed.
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