Linda Ravin Lodding
Head of Communications
Global Child Forum
PUBLISHED: MARCH, 2021
Watching the situation in Ukraine unfold, we are alarmed for the citizens and especially the children who are fleeing – sometimes alone – to safe-havens. The well-being of the country’s 7.5 million children is at stake.
While the situation is grave, we are also heartened to see many in the corporate sector using their economic might, their social platforms, and their commercial operations to support Ukrainians, respect democracy, rule of law, and human rights. This is the definition of corporate social responsibility in action.
This has never meant more than it does now. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles. Developed by UNICEF, the UN Global Compact, and Save the Children, the Principles provide a comprehensive framework for understanding and addressing corporate impact on the rights and wellbeing of children. Looking at the Ukraine context, Principle 9 is especially relevant: Help protect children affected by emergencies. As teen, Eliza Kantardzic, from Bosnia and Herzegovina told a United Nations Security Council Meeting on Children and Armed Conflict nearly 20 ago, “War and politics are always adult games, but children are always the losers.”
Amidst the rubble of this tragedy, we do see some companies, putting in place initiatives, programs, and emergency measures that support and help children and their families who are affected by this crisis.
For example, within the Tech and Telecom sector, recently benchmarked by Global Child Forum, more than a dozen telecom providers are providing free international calls to Ukraine or canceling roaming charges. Businesses taking action include A1 Telekom Austria Group, Altice Portugal, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Proximus, Swisscom, Telefónica, Telenor, Telia Company, TIM, KPN , Vivacom and Vodafone. Initiatives such as this help to connect children and their families to the support and resources they need to try to navigate to safety. (source: Reuters)
One of these companies, Telia, recently underlined their commitment saying that “keeping people and societies connected is at the core of what we do, and our services have never been more important than during times of crises…”
Within the travel and tourism sector, Airbnb said it was offering free, short-term housing to up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine, and that it was temporarily waiving its booking fees there. Nordic Choice offered free lodging in its Vilnius hotel, while Poland’s Arche Hotels is also housing refugees. Providing children and their families shelter and access to basic needs is critical during this time especially as temperatures drop below freezing, children are faced with long days and nights exposed to cold, brutal conditions. Uber has also announced unlimited free rides from the border to Polish cities and was also working to transport 60 tons of essential supplies from Romania to Ukraine.
With humanitarian needs mounting by the hour, Sweden’s Medicover and private Polish provider LuxMed said they were providing free medical assistance to Ukrainians coming to Poland. Merck, Eli Lilly, and General Electric have offered funds for medical devices, insulin, and coronavirus treatments, while L’Oreal said it had distributed 250,000 hygiene products and would provide more in coming weeks. Children, some already fleeing with illness and disabilities, need special care and attention to both their mental and physical health.
Grants are the fastest way to accelerate emergency efforts and many multinational firms and their foundations have pledged cash for aid organizations, including around $22 million from IKEA, $16 million from Danish toymaker Lego, and $5 million each from Biedronka-owner Jeronimo Martins, French luxury group LVMH. (source: Reuters)
These are examples of companies acting as corporate citizens. As Queen Silvia of Sweden, founder of Global Child Forum said recently in a video address, “Over the past decade we have seen that companies are transitioning from a ”profit-only” model of business to a “purpose-driven” model of leadership. They are becoming corporate citizens. Through this shift, we are seeing companies deliver real societal impact.”
In response to the crisis, UNICEF is scaling up its humanitarian response. In collaboration with the International Chamber of Commerce, they have issued a guide with urgent calls to action from business: The Ukraine Crisis in a Child Rights Crisis: What can business do for children and their families?
OCHA, UN Global Compact, and the Connecting Business initiative have also issued a guide on how the private sector can help: Business Guide to the Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis.
The Ukraine crisis is a child rights crisis and, as this evolves, businesses will increasingly be called on to play a key role in raising awareness for the need to provide support to children and families. At Global Child Forum we are calling on all companies to harness their influence, leverage their channels, and re-double their efforts to ensure that all vulnerable children have a chance at a safe and secure life.
Ten years on, we see that companies are only partially considering the Children’s Rights and Business Principles. Today, more than ever, companies need to embed these principles within their operations and organizational culture to be able to respond to these events effectively – for the children of Ukraine, and all children affected by emergencies. While the appalling situation is changing rapidly in Ukraine, this is also an opportunity for businesses to lead and show the positive side of humanity.
Head of Communications