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18 June 2019

SYDNEY, Tuesday 18 June 2019 – Vast numbers of children, both in Australia and overseas, will be better protected throughout the supply chains and operations of Australian businesses, and businesses operating in our country, if the Australian Government implements the 11 recommendations in UNICEF Australia’s Building Better Business for Children report, released today.  

“Children are regularly affected by the operations of businesses - they are consumers of goods, services, and advertising, they can be workers in shops, restaurants and offices, and they are community members affected by business decisions made both near and far,” said UNICEF Australia Senior Policy Adviser, and author of the report, Alison Elliott. “The treatment of parents and carers as employees also affects family life and children’s experiences growing up. And our interconnected world means that the supply chain decisions made by Australian businesses can also affect the lives of children and communities internationally.”

Building Better Business for Children provides an extensive examination of Australian policy and law that establishes the rules of the game for business; from restrictions on marketing and advertising practices and protections against child labour, to family-friendly employment conditions and access to parental leave,” Ms Elliott said. “This document identifies areas of good practice from the Australian Government, as well as key gaps that require better regulation, to ensure that businesses respect the rights of children in their operations in both Australia and overseas.”

The central recommendation of the report is for Australia to commit to and adopt a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP). Twenty three countries around the world already have NAPs, with 12 more having them in development. These plans are used to help a country achieve the business-related targets within the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which Australia has committed to, along with 192 other countries.

“Adopting a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, like those other countries have, would help Australia continue to foster a sustainable and ethical business sector, while protecting members of the community, including children and young people” said. “It functions as an official commitment to policies and regulations, as well as a plan of action." 

A further ten recommendations address several significant gaps in Australian policy, law and practice that leave children and carers vulnerable to adverse impacts of business activity, and potentially without remedy when these occur. These include weaknesses in the regulation of marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and beverages, inadequate protections against child labour, Australia’s relatively limited paid parental leave scheme and limited financial security for employees and their children experiencing domestic and family violence.

In fact, last Thursday the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti – released its Are the world’s richest countries family-friendly? report, which reviewed policies in 41 high and middle-income OECD and EU countries, ranking Australia 40th on the list in terms of legislated paid parental leave for mothers. 

“As globalisation intensifies, governments are increasingly doing more to require, and to assist, businesses to take action to respect human rights – while communities, investors, consumers and business leaders themselves are increasingly expecting governments to rise to these challenges. Yet a child rights perspective has not yet been explicitly considered. This is, despite the fact, that almost all practices in the business world impact upon children, either directly or indirectly,” Ms Elliott said.

Ms Elliott said the Building Better Business for Children report provides a starting point for the Australian Government to consider children and families when setting the rules of the game for business. In so doing, it would also help Australia make inroads to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030.