Mobility & Connectivity: Children's Rights and Sustainable Business - The Global Child Forum on Southeast Asia

On Thursday, 5 May, the Global Child Forum on Southeast Asia took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia under the theme “Mobility and Connectivity: Children’s Rights and Sustainable Business”. The Southeast Asia Forum is the 8th for the organisation and brought together over 280 leaders and decision makers from 26 countries to discuss the current state of children’s rights in the ASEAN region and called upon business to make children’s rights a top priority.

The Forum was inaugurated by H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf, the Honorary Chairman of Global Child Forum which the Royal Family started in 2009 in order to stimulate dialogue and leadership and advance children’s rights in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In his opening speech the King focused on children’s rights in Southeast Asia. The 10-country region is one of the most dynamic in the world and is home to over 600 million people with a young population. The King emphasised the importance of ensuring that children’s rights are respected as the economy grows and technology evolves. “The region is a major economic power: Not only is travel and tourism expanding at a rapid pace, it is also home to many globally competitive companies. With its stable growth, it is projected to be the world’s 4th largest economy by 2050.”

This development, however, also raises some critical questions regarding children’s rights: When business is booming – how do we ensure that children’s rights are respected? How can new technology help advance those rights? And how can responsible businesses contribute?

The Forum’s moderator, award-winning journalist Veronica Pedrosa from CNN International, led delegates and speakers through the programme which focused on addressing these questions.

In the morning, H.E. Le Luong Minh, Secretary-General of ASEAN took to the plenary stage to speak about the region’s multi-sectoral initiatives to protect children and the importance of cooperating with the private sector to advance children’s rights. “All of these initiatives aim to build knowledge towards protecting and promoting the rights of children,” said the Secretary-General, “with this knowledge, ASEAN is more capable of integrating children’s rights in the ASEAN Economic Community where businesses are cognizant of children’s rights and active partners in their promotion and protection.”

Hon Dato’ Sri Rohani Abdul Karim, Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Malaysia, called on all parts of the community, especially businesses, to help take action to strengthen children’s rights in the region. Under her tenure, the Minister has established the National Council for Children where children propose recommendations to the government on issues including their protection, care and development.

Before breaking for lunch, Dr. Fiona Rotberg, Global Child Forum’s Research Director and Mr Rick Ramli, Managing Partner at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), launched the benchmark report “Children’s Rights and the Corporate Sector in Southeast Asia” (please see benchmark infographic here).

“It is impressive to see that 70 per centof the companies in the region actively promote children’s rights programmes, which is well above the global average of 48 per cent,” said Dr. Rotberg. “However, a lot of work still needs to be done to protect Southeast Asian children. We encourage business to bring up the regional benchmark score and to focus not solely on child labour but to address issues such as product safety, marketing to children and sexual exploitation.”

The results were commented on by Dr. Simon Lord, Group Sustainability Officer at Sime Darby Holdings Berhad, Mr Albern Murty, CEO of Digi Telecommunications, Mr Pipat Yodprudtikan, Director of Thaipat Institute and Wivina Belmonte, Deputy Regional Director at UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific.

The afternoon kicked- off with four different solution-driven ActionLab sessions which called on delegates to focus on specific themes:

  • Reframing challenges as opportunities: youth employment as a driver for change
  • Children in the digital age: how the ICT sector can support and respect children’s rights
  • Into the light: safeguarding children’s rights in the travel and tourism sector
  • The Children’s Rights and Business Atlas: a tool for responsible business.

Key take-aways from each ActionLab were summarised on video and shared in the plenary with all delegates. Reoccurring themes expressed were the need to share best practice and knowledge, the need for increased awareness and action, and the need for committed business leadership.

The afternoon continued with remarks from Mr Trung Dung, himself an emigrant from Vietnam, who went on to found iCare Benefits – an organisation that provides workers in developing countries access to essential products and services through interest-free installments.

Towards the end of the day, speakers took to the stage to answer the question “Perspective for the Future – What Will it Take?”. Discussants were Mr Mark Pierce, Plan International’s Regional Director Asia, Mr Y.W. Junardy, Board Member of the UN Global Compact , Ms Ines Kaempfer , Executive Director of The Center for Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility (CCR CSR) and Mr Per Heggenes , CEO of IKEA Foundation.

H.M. Queen Silvia closed the Global Child Forum on Southeast Asia with remarks which emphasised that the Forum is not about just charity or talk – it is about real change for the better. She encouraged everyone to seize the opportunities that were discussed during the day and to take action.

By bringing together leaders and decision makers from around the world to share and compare experiences, Global Child Forum hopes to inspire delegates to create a better future for the world’s children and youth.