Global Child Forum

Q&A with Katarina Mellström, Secretary General

February 2023

Global Child Forum is happy to welcome Katarina Mellström as the organisation’s new Secretary General. Katarina comes to Global Child Forum with a background in the non-profit and private sectors. We asked her eight questions about herself, her vision for the organisation and the state of children’s rights in the corporate sustainability agenda.

1. You’ve just taken over the reins at Global Child Forum as Secretary General. What attracted you to the organisation and this role?

Serving at the helm of this organisation is a unique opportunity for me to be able to combine my interest and commitment to sustainability and, more specifically, human rights with my long working experience from different companies. Many organisations work practically, in the field, with children. While Global Child Forum’s work is dedicated to children’s rights, our mission is to influence companies to consider children’s rights in their operations and communities. Companies have a strong impact on society, not least on children, so I strongly believe our mission is very important and a good complement to other efforts aimed directly at children.

2. We have just started 2023, do you have any new years’ resolutions for you within your role as Secretary General or for Global Child Forum as a whole? 

As head of Global Child Forum, I want to execute our mission and ensure that we gradually expand our products and services while maintaining quality and focusing on benefits to society. I want Global Child Forum to be the world’s most influential organisation in our field and the obvious choice for companies when considering how to ensure that their impact on children is positive. Of course, I also want Global child Forum to be an attractive workplace where, together, we work to create a better world for children.

3. Global Child Forum is known for, among other things, the children’s rights and business benchmark. Why do you think benchmarking is important, and how can businesses use our benchmark in their work?

Companies have an enormous impact on society and thus also have a very large capacity to contribute to societal and economic change. The world’s green transition will entirely depend on the changes companies make. In the same way, I see that our benchmark can drive change by exposing a company’s risks and opportunities vis-à-vis children’s rights and also provide a yardstick by which to measure their performance against their peers. We also believe that sharing good examples, through case studies, is an excellent way to spur positive change.

4. What’s your message to the business community who want to advance children’s rights within their operations but don’t know how to move forward?

Many companies share their good intentions and child rights policies in their sustainability reports. But we need to move beyond policy to performance. The first step in the process of implementing a child rights perspective is to map and analyse your company’s impact on children. You also need to ensure that you have a commitment from top management in order for children’s rights to be integrated throughout your company. We also would love to see companies communicate and report transparently on their progress – achievements as well as challenges. The Children’s Rights and Business Principles also offer an invaluable framework encompassing the full scope of how businesses should address children’s rights within the workplace, marketplace, community, and environment.

5. What do you see as the next evolution of the discussion around children’s rights and business?

Businesses understand that they have a huge impact on society, and we now need to translate that will into action. We see advances in terms of children’s rights disclosures and a willingness to bring these issues to the board level – but much more needs to be done. We also must ensure that companies understand their full responsibility for children’s rights along their value chain. At Global Child Forum, we are here to support this dialogue through conversations around our benchmark with companies and by sharing our tools, resources and services.

Another important evolution is around child-inclusive finance – a term we coined in 2021 to highlight the need for investors to take a child rights perspective in their investment decision-making. Investors understand the need for ESG investment strategies and approaches, but often lack the social data. Our benchmark provides the much-needed children’s rights data, at a company level, to help shape these investor discussions and decisions. Likewise, companies need to be aware that large asset managers are working with our benchmark data to ensure that their investment portfolio is robust both economically and socially sustainable.

6. Our world is facing increasing challenges when it comes to human rights, and children’s rights specifically. While we’ve seen advances, we still have a long way to go. What do you think are the most pressing challenges and how can we solve these? 

One only has to look at the daily news headlines to be reminded of the challenges facing children. We are seeing the impact of climate change on children and companies can contribute to children’s rights by reducing their emissions and adopting more sustainable practices, which can help mitigate the negative impact of climate change on children.  Child labour continues to be present in supply chains and this can have a serious negative impact on the rights and well-being of children. Companies must know if they risk using or indirectly supporting forced or child labour in their supply chains, particularly in industries that rely on low-cost labour. Hunger is another issue that will plague much of the world’s young population in the years to come. More than 35 million people, including 6.7 million children, are currently unable to meet their basic food and nutrition needs.

Additionally, conflicts are also forcing children to flee violence and to be on the move. But beyond conflicts, children and their families are also forced to flee due to company action that contributes to the displacement of children and their families such as through land acquisition, environmental degradation, and war. Companies have proven that they can play an important role in mitigating all of these risks.

Young people, today more than ever, care about how companies impact the society in which they live and they have an opinion and desire about what is acceptable or not.

Katarina Mellström

Secretary General, Global Child Forum

7. What, in your view, are the main challenges and opportunities facing the business sector when addressing children’s rights in the years to come?

A company coordinates resources to produce goods or services to create value. In addition to evaluating this, one should also evaluate the company’s results regarding sustainability, human rights and impact on children. We all need to make sure that children’s health and well-being are taken care of in order to ensure they thrive.

Young people, today more than ever, care about how companies impact the society in which they live and they have an opinion and desire about what is acceptable or not.

8. Global Child Forum is almost 13 years old. When you were 13 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My dream was to become a doctor and to work for Läkare utan gränser (Doctors Without Borders) because I wanted to work internationally. For various reasons, I didn’t become a doctor, but I have always worked internationally, so at least a part of that dream came true.

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Global Child Forum
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