CHALLENGE: UNICEF PARTNERED WITH ARTICLE ONE TO CREATE A PRACTICAL TOOL FOR INTEGRATING CHILDREN’S RIGHTS INTO RESPONSIBLE SOURCING FRAMEWORKS.
Article One’s expert knowledge on children’s rights and business has been critical for the engagement with companies and our in-depth collaboration.
— Chris Kip, Children Rights and Business Lead, UNICEF
In support of UNICEF’s Network on Children’s Rights in the Garment and Footwear Sector, jointly established with Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), Article One developed a four phased approach to developing a public-facing guidance tool for buyers and suppliers in the apparel and footwear sectors.
During the first phase, Article One supported UNICEF-led workshops in Geneva, Switzerland and Dhaka, Bangladesh. The workshops were designed to gather input from buyers and manufacturers in the development of the guidance tool. The workshops were attended by international garment and footwear buyers, local manufacturers, civil society organizations and civil society experts. The companies engaged in the workshops covered more than one million employees in their own operations and an estimated eight million workers in their supply chains. The manufacturers who participated in the workshop in Dhaka collectively employed more than 80,000 workers (of which more than 52,000 were women). In addition, four webinars were held with network members that provided additional opportunities for discussion and stakeholder input.
Building on the findings from the workshops, Article One conducted an in-depth review of 25 leading garment and footwear brands to understand their approach to managing child rights risks. A literature review was also conducted, focusing on existing knowledge of responsible supply chain management, human rights due diligence approaches in the supply chain, and integration of children’s rights.
During the third phase, Article One conducted interviews with representatives from eight multinational garment and footwear companies. The interviews were conducted to gather insight on: existing supply chain management processes; the extent to which these approaches address child rights; successes and challenges; innovative or industry-leading practices to overcome challenges; and input on performance metrics on child rights.
Based on the findings from phases one to three, Article One supported the development of guidance for buyers and suppliers to better integrate respect for child rights into their supply chain management programs.
More than 60 million workers are employed in the garment and footwear sector worldwide. Many of them are parents and caregivers who support families. UNICEF estimates that more than 100 million children are affected in the garment and footwear supply chain globally – as workers, children of working parents and community members near farms and factories.
Article One’s research found that over the past two decades, garment and footwear companies have invested significant resources to develop responsible supply chain management systems. However, the prevailing approach has been grounded in compliance, with a primary focus on mitigating child labor risks rather than addressing the full range of adverse impacts on children affected by the sector.
While supply chain management has focused on child labor, research suggests that factors beyond child labor can have significant adverse impacts on children if not effectively mitigated. These include:
- WORKING CONDITIONS FOR PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS: The conditions parents experience at work can directly affect the health, development, and well-being of their children. For example, reasonable hours and sufficient wages allow parents to balance work and family life, and to provide the care, attention, and resources their children need to thrive. In contrast, low wages, long hours, and lack of access to maternity protection and related basic services can negatively affect child survival, health, nutrition and education. This can lead to long-term – and in many cases irreversible – negative impact.
- CHILD LABOUR AND PROTECTION: While considerable attention has been paid to eliminating child labor in the garment and footwear supply chain, ensuring the wider protection of children in business activities has received far less attention. This may include, for example, ensuring the protection of adolescent workers (those below 18 years and above the legal minimum age for work) inside factories, and safeguarding the rights of children in the communities where workers or their children live, including families of migrant workers.
- COMMUNITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS: Impacts on children do not end in the workplace but are linked to broader root causes in the community context. In the community, children are affected through the family’s living conditions (e.g., housing, water, sanitation standards); the access they have to basic services (e.g., health care and education); and environmental concerns (e.g., water and air pollution).
Despite this broad array of potential impacts, brands reported other than child labor considerations child rights were rarely integrated into responsible sourcing approaches. The image below highlights how few companies are actively integrating broader child rights issues – such as maternity protections, breastfeeding support and access to childcare – into their management practices.
To support brands and suppliers in integrating child rights risks into their supply chain management programs, Article One developed an action framework for integrating child rights, which included steps to 1) assess and integrate, 2) monitor and report, and 3) collaborate and support.
The guidance has been embraced by companies across the sector with leading companies strengthening programs to support a broader approach to responding to child rights. As outlined in the Compendium of Company and Industry Examples, several companies have made advances in addressing child rights. For example:
- VF Corporation established the Worker and Community Development Programme to help address some of the root causes that affect workers and their families and children.
- Li & Fung is implementing technology-based solutions to understand and respond to the needs of workers and their children and to provide resources that help workers enhance their children’s wellbeing at home and in their communities.
- NEXT plc is leveraging regional teams to build local knowledge and stakeholder relationships to help ensure policies and practices related to child rights are implemented with local challenges and needs in mind.
- H&M is supporting legislation on mandatory human rights due diligence that includes women’s and children’s rights considerations to tackle some of the systemic challenges that underpin adverse impacts on child rights.