|Ms Toyin Olakanpo|
It’s been a year since the UN Children’s Rights and Business Principles was launched by the United Nations last year in March. What has been the impact, if any, on the business sector in Nigeria?Though the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (CRBP) was launched in the UK in March last year, it wasn’t launched in Nigeria till June 2012, so the annual clock is still ticking for us, but nevertheless, I think the impact has been minimal as many companies do not consider Children’s Rights their business. In a recent study last month UNICEF found that over one-third of UK companies don't think children's rights are relevant to their business. I would peg that to be higher in Nigeria – maybe close to two- thirds.
Why do you think this is the case?
I think it is due to a lack of understanding of what the CRBP is trying to achieve and what is expected of companies. When you think of Children’s Rights as a business, you automatically think of Child Labour and Child Abuse, but it is much more than that. Businesses are finding it difficult to think beyond that.
So if Children’s Rights isn’t just about Child Labour and Child Abuse, what is it about?
The CRBP lays out 10 principles - I will not list them all. But it includes supporting employees and caregivers as parents (for example having corporate crèche facilities in the offices); supporting the government in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals; supporting children’s development including talent generation at the grassroots level; and supporting children’s rights through safe products and services.
Yes, when you are talking about companies that provide services for children or products for children, one can see the link as to why these companies should support children’s rights, as children are the main stakeholders and consumers, but how do those children’s rights relate to the other business sectors like banking and financial services, for example?
A number of banks in Nigeria have savings accounts for children. This in itself teaches children to be financially responsible from an early age. This is one way of supporting children’s rights. However, to be more effective and to make an impact, the aspect of financial responsibility needs to be taken to the grassroots level so that children who do not have access to banking can begin to understand basic economics and a way out of poverty.
But there are many NGOs and Foundations doing this work, and the government too is involved. Why do we need the business sector to get involved?
Businesses cannot sit on hand while children around them go hungry; are out of school; are malnourished, abused and lost without a future. Take the oil companies who operate in the Niger Delta, should they not care about the children who live in that area? Their development? Their welfare and safety? The successful implementation of the CRBP requires a shared commitment between the public sector, private sector and NGOs. This triangle of co-operation is what will lead to tremendous growth and development in this country. The business sector has the enormous potential to affect the lives and development of the children of this country. We are now asking them to give real focus to their CSR strategy and look at supporting the future of this country – children.
But why do we need CEOs to be involved.
Decisions are made from the top. We need the buy-in of the business CEOs for this to be a success. They are the ones with the financial muscle. What CEOs need to understand is that by supporting Children’s Rights they are contributing to building healthy societies where everybody can develop to their full potential. It’s all about growing a sustainable business. It is a social investment. It makes sound business sense. We actually need business CEOs to champion this cause. They are doing this in Europe – top CEOS of major companies like IKEA, Rosy Blue – the diamond trading company, Telnet and Credit Suisse First Boston for example, so why not in Nigeria?
I am beginning to understand better the slogan ‘Children’s Rights are Everybody’s business’...Yes. It is everybody’s responsibility. Do you realise how many children use mobile phones in this country and access the internet through them? What is the Telecoms industry doing to educate the youths on internet safety and digital bullying? Even the auto-industry is not left out: do you realise that children are the primary occupants of the second row (and third row) of vehicles? This means that the auto industry must be responsible to ensure child safety and to educate children and parents on child car safety, and even child pedestrian safety too.
One can argue that companies are already doing a lot in terms of supporting human rights and gender rights through their CSR targets. Are they now to consider Children’s Rights as a separate issue?
Yes. I can understand that CSR fatigue has begun to set in, but businesses need not be alarmed or overcome because when they look at the requirements of the CRBP, they will see that these requirements can be easily fitted into their current CSR strategy and HR practices.
So what is the way forward in engaging the private sector and business CEOs to support Children’s Rights?
I think a lot of advocacy is needed in this area which is why I founded the Children and Business Network Nigeria - an advocacy initiative to engage the private sector to make a serious commitment in the support of Children’s Rights through their HR Practices and CSR Targets. We will be holding our 1st Annual CEO Forum on Children’s Rights and the Business Sector on May 30 at The Wheatbaker Hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos to give companies guidance on how to support Children’s Rights and giving concrete examples of businesses that have succeeded in this area. The Forum will also create valuable partnerships and other forms of collective actions in advancing Children’s Rights in Nigeria through the private sector.
What is your personal interest in Child Rights?
I trained and practised law with one of the leading law firms in the UK – Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. As a trained lawyer, a sense of justice and what is right has always captured my soul. This coupled with the fact that I have spent the last 12 years working with children in the area of early childhood education and international development makes me a natural candidate for child rights advocacy.
Being a child rights advocate is very admirable...
There are a lot of us out there. I am not the only one. I think we all get to that point in our lives when we seek to give back to society and use the privileged lifestyle and education bestowed upon us by our parents to make a positive contribution to our society. I think the upcoming CEO Forum will bring us all together and create valuable partnerships.
What is the interest so far in the upcoming CEO Forum?
The interest has been very positive. The forum is being supported by some of the top 100 companies and top 50 brands in Nigeria including Addax Petroleum Development (Nigeria), Nestle Foods Nigeria Plc, Diamond Bank Plc, Promasidor Nigeria Plc, UBA Plc and Unilever Nigeria Plc. We also have the support of the Lagos State Government, which is one of our key participants and one of the Federal Government agencies – the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Nigeria. The interest is indeed there. We now need to translate that interest into action.
Will the event just be attended by business CEOs?
We do have a number of business CEOs attending. However, we also want to include CSR, Human Resources, Marketing and Business Strategy Senior Executives. We want to engage the whole business enterprise from the top down. We really don’t want companies pushing the responsibility of supporting Children’s Rights to their Foundations or CSR unit. We want them to embrace this fully and realise that the active support of Children’s Rights will involve their whole enterprise.
What are the plans of the Children and Business Network post the CEO Forum?
We intend to build upon the relationships and partnerships that we have made to advance Children’s Rights in Nigeria. We intend to track the commitment of companies in Nigeria and their support of Children’s Rights and most importantly engage with the international community and international organisations on our progress in Nigeria, in the support of Children’s Rights through the private sector.
BioData Toyin Olakanpo is a graduate of Warwick University Law School. A duly qualified Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Wales and duly admitted New York State attorney, she pursued a career in early childhood education and international development after 10 successful years practising law with one of the leading law firms in the world, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. Toyin also holds a Masters degree in Education from New York University. She is a passionate advocate and consultant for child rights and global education with a focus on Africa and has worked with local government in this area.