Stockholm (NordSIP) – The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect are so widespread it is difficult to keep track of every way in which it has disrupted the world. Given the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on the older segment of the population, its effect on children is often overlooked. However, UNICEF, the UN’s International Children’s Emergency Fund, notes that child poverty may increase to approximately 1.2 billion children, with an additional 142 million expected to have fallen into monetary poverty in 2020 due to the pandemic.
At the end of March, the Global Child Forum (GCF), together with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), published The State of Children’s Rights and Business in Southeast Asia 2020 report to shed further light on the state of children’s rights in the region. According to the report, Southeast Asian companies have improved their record on children’s rights since the most recent study, with more companies bringing the issue to the board level. But although the region has made headway, the GCF warns that “there is much room – and great need – for improvement”, particularly in the Apparel and Retail industry.
The Global Child Forum was founded in 2009 by the Swedish Royal Family as a forum for children’s rights and business dedicated to innovative thinking, knowledge-sharing and networking.
Measuring Business Performance on Childrens’ Rights
The 2020 Southeast Asia report covers the 232 largest companies across Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Sectorally, it focuses on companies operating in the sectors of Basic Materials, Consumer Discretionary, Consumer Staples, Financials & Property, ICT, Industrials, Oil, Gas & Utilities as identified by the FTSE Russell Industry Classification Benchmark (ICB). The study reviews available information in English from these companies and scores their performance along 27 indicators from 0 (no information could be found) to 10 (the company reports on how they address children’s rights for this issue).
The report includes scorecards for each sector, with lists of companies with the highest scores and top movers, highlighting relevant children’s rights topics. The highest possible score is 10. Companies are assigned performance categories: Beginners, Improvers, Achievers and Leaders.
Leaders and Laggards
The total average score for the region is 4.2 out of 10, suggesting that, on average, companies have reached the Improver level. However, that score remains below the GCF global average of 5.6 out of 10 points estimated in 2019. Compared to the previous study of the region conducted in 2016, the share of regional companies that have formalised board accountability for children’s rights has increased from 3% in 2016 to 24% in 2020.
According to the report, “the results show that there are more Achievers than Beginners, indicating a positive movement towards the top. In most sectors, albeit not all, there are Leaders in the peer group who may act as a support or serve as an example to inspire others within the group”.
The top-scoring sector is Food, Beverage and Personal Care, with an average score of 4.8 and 48% of companies categorized as Achievers and Leaders. The top-scoring company in this sector is Wilmar International Ltd, scoring 9.4. Issues that impact children in the sector include product safety issues, for example, nutrition and child labour in agricultural production.
With an average score of 3.4, and only 14% of companies ranked as Achiever and Leaders, the Apparel and Retail sector scores the lowest in GCF and BCG’s ranking. The top-scoring company is CP All Public Company Ltd, which scores 7.8. The issues relevant for this sector are family-friendly workplace practices, especially with regard to migrant workers, product safety regarding for example exposure to chemicals or flammable materials.
“Half of the companies in the region don’t have a child labour policy,” Cajsa Wiking, Secretary-General of the Global Child Forum, and Johan Öberg, Managing Director & Senior Partner Boston Consulting Group in Stockholm warn in the report’s foreword. “This fundamental requirement needs to be urgently addressed by all companies. The large number of companies, especially in the Apparel & Retail sector, with lower than global average scores is worrisome.”
“With the ‘Year of the Elimination of Child Labour’ upon us (as mandated by UN General Assembly), there is no better time than now to close the child labour policy gap in the region. There is also concern that the global pandemic risks undermining the region’s positive strides or, worse, reversing progress that has been made over the past decade – especially with regard to child labour,” the authors of the foreword conclude.
The State of Children’s Rights and Business in Southeast Asia 2020 report is available on the GCF’s website.