The State of Children's Rights and Business 2022
Tech & Telecom deep dive
After analysing the data, six key takeaways emerged related to how companies in the Technology and Telecommunications sector disclose the ways in which they manage their impact on children’s lives. In the final section of this report, we make use of these takeaways to formulate a set of urgent calls to action required to improve disclosures concerning children and increase this sector’s positive impact on children’s lives.
Please read more about each takeaway further down on this page. The six key takeaways are:
- Electronics are leading
- Responsible marketing and product safety – a lost opportunity
- Telecommunications lead on product safety¨
- Limited understanding of the connection between climate action and children
- Software & IT Services lagging
- Lack of disclosures on compliance and outcomes – are policies and commitments mostly rhetoric?
Electronics are leading
The electronics industry is the overall highest scoring of the three industries in the sector, with an average score of 6.0 (out of 10). When compared to other industries, electronics also has the highest share of Leaders and Achievers, i.e. companies scoring above 5.0. Specifically, electronics companies outperform the other industries in the Workplace area, which covers disclosures on child labour and family-friendly workplaces both within a company’s own operations and with regard to its supply chain.
This is a diverse industry, one that encompasses companies that manufacture consumer electronics as well as business-to-business providers of, for example, semi-conductors. Those companies that are closer to the consumer market tend to score better. However, companies that are further from the consumer also exert a significant impact on children’s lives through their employees, their business operations, their suppliers, and customers. Lower-scoring companies can learn from what their peers are doing and take advantage of the existing momentum within the industry. A majority of the companies in the industry disclose information on the issues of child labour and the ways in which they support employees who are parents. However, they are scoring better on disclosing policies and commitments as compared to disclosing the outcomes of these policies and commitments, such as compliance or identified risks or cases of child labour. This lack of transparency regarding the effectiveness weakens the credibility of the stated commitments. Although issues related to working parents are not new, as a consequence of the pandemic, many companies have recognized the need to increase support to workers who are parents. Among such companies is Samsung:
“Supporting working parents with strong family-friendly policies is critical to ensure we minimize the disruption from the pandemic to our employees’ families and to their children. At the same time, these policies and our commitment to them can help mitigate any arising gender equality issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as we continue to strive to go beyond our legal obligations to provide benefits to fulfil our vision of supporting a culture that also enables women to realize their full potential as leaders and role models for future generations.” / Thomas Holmberg, Head of Human Resources, Samsung Nordic
Read more about what Samsung is doing in the case: “Supporting working parents and caregivers through strong family-friendly policies”.
Responsible marketing and product safety – a lost opportunity
It is in the Marketplace impact area, which assesses disclosures related to how marketing and products and services are both protecting and supporting children, that we see the lowest scores out of the three impact areas, with an average of just 3.4 (out of 10). There are very few companies in the sector that explicitly consider children as an especially vulnerable group in relation to marketing and advertising (which they are even if they are not the intended consumer group), and half of the companies have no established general policy on responsible communication or marketing/ advertising. The same goes for product safety, where in terms of the average score of 5.2 on product safety policy indicator (see graph), 64% of the companies do have a general policy on product safety, but only 20% of them specifically mention children.
Our results tell us that, for the most part, businesses don’t fully understand something crucial about children. Children — whether as intended, unintended users of products, or as part of the audience for companies’ external messaging — are separate and distinct from adult stakeholders. So, for example, in the technology sector, taking children seriously would mean conducting due diligence downstream. Which products and services have a positive impact on children? Which have a potential negative impact? Giving serious consideration to children as stakeholders means businesses have a way to breathe life into their policies and commitments. It signals a long-term engagement to keeping children safe online, ensuring their privacy, and protecting their futures.
This sector also has an enormous potential to support children and provide technology that sets them off to a bright future. A fair share of the companies (30%) report that they have a programme to support children through their products or marketing, and such programmes usually relate to online safety. It is, however, alarming to note that almost half of them don’t report on having a programme related to product development for positive social impact at all. As the pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of (safe) online access, especially for children, this is an area where there is ample, but unfortunately overlooked, opportunity to combine business and social good.
Vodafone and Microsoft are two examples of companies that do “get it.” They include children as important stakeholders, in the product development phase as well as end users. Read more about this under Key Takeaway 3 and 5 below. .
Telecommunications lead on product safety
Of the three industries in this sector, the telecommunications industry is in second place overall, with an average score of 5.0 (out of 10) compared to the other industries. The industry has the same share of Leaders (average score above 7.5) as Electronics, but the overall score for this industry is reduced by the large share of low-scoring companies, that is to say, Beginners. This industry takes the lead within the sector on issues of product safety and responsible marketing in relation to children (even when they are not the intended target group or consumer), earning an average score for the Marketplace area of 3.6.
Compared to the sector overall, the relatively large share – 24% – of companies scoring below 2.5 on average, i.e. Beginners, shows that there is ample room for improvement within the sector, particularly the lower scoring companies that need to improve across all indicators.
The topic of the safety of children when they are online is obviously germane to this industry, and the attention given to this issue contributes to the higher marketplace scores. Many companies in this sector disclose policies on product safety and prioritise programmes to both protect and support children as they interact with the online world. Called upon by consumers, legislators, and authorities, the industry has come to see the value of mitigating risks with regard to children. Beyond that, there is market opportunity; as has been made starkly clear by the school closures and ensuring isolation brought about by the pandemic, this industry provides a product that has the potential to support children’s lives in many ways.
We can look to Vodafone for an example of this. The company has developed several products and initiatives to ensure online safety for their underage users, while also supporting parents who are attempting to monitor their children’s activities online, set time limits, and contribute to their children’s digital education.
“While we seek to support children and their parents and caregivers to become responsible digital citizens, we also recognise the need to conduct regular assessments to identify and mitigate any potential risks to children and child rights in our own operations.” / Moira Thompson Oliver, Sr. Human Rights Manager, Vodafone Group
Read more about what Vodafone is doing in the case: “Demonstrating and end-to-end commitment to children’s rights”.
Limited understanding of the connection between climate action and children
Overall, the companies in this sector score well when it comes to disclosures on commitments and environmental impact. (see graph) And yet, with the exception of child rights programmes that, for example, support children with respect to education or access.
During the last decade, there has been considerable focus on the environmental impact of the business sector as a whole as measured by, for example, greenhouse gas emissions, water use and pollution. Pressure from investors, governments, employees and consumers has led to the development of clear reporting frameworks used by an increasing number of companies for their disclosures. But with regard to social impact, company disclosures tend to be ad hoc, focusing more on “traditional” CSR initiatives rather than on divulging potential negative impacts and how they are being addressed.
An example: there is a lack of references by companies as to how their environmental impacts (and efforts to address them), are affecting children’s lives. Beyond generic phrases found in sustainability reports such as “wanting to build a sustainable future for our children” there is a disconnect between social and environmental action. In other words, most companies show no indication of being up to the task of addressing climate change in a socially sustainable and equitable way. This is especially important for children, who are presently being affected in their communities by climate issues and who will presumably have to live with both environmental and social impacts well into the future, for the duration of their lives.
Software & IT Services lagging
The software & IT Services industry trails the other two sectors with an average score of 4.3 (out of 10). This industry also has the highest share of 0 scores across all indicators. This industry has no Leaders (average score above 7.5) and a majority of the companies score on average below 5.0.
It is encouraging to see that most companies in the Software and IT Services industry have programmes to support parents through, for example, providing parental leave beyond what is legally required and/or other childcare benefits. But when compared to electronics and telecommunications, across all impact areas, this industry exhibits a larger gap between indicators relating to policies or commitments versus indicators relating to disclosing outcomes or results of such policies. For example, the industry scores higher than electronics and on par with telecommunications when it comes to having policies on product safety and responsible marketing. Yet there is a failure to follow through on these policies by issuing disclosures as to, for example, whether their products or services have harmed children. Microsoft illustrates how a software company can integrate a children’s perspective throughout all aspects of their business. It is working actively, not only to protect children, but also to support them.2
“First and foremost, as a technology company, we have a responsibility to create software, devices and services that have safety features built in from the outset. We leverage technology across our services to detect, disrupt and report illegal content, including child sexual exploitation. And we innovate and invest in tools, technology and partnerships to support the global fight needed to address online child sexual exploitation. At Microsoft, we embrace a multistakeholder model to combat online child exploitation that includes survivors and their advocates, government, tech companies and civil society working together.” / Courtney Gregoire, Chief Digital Safety Officer, Microsoft
Read more about what Microsoft is doing in the case: “Technology to respect and promote child rights in the age of COVID-19”
Lack of disclosures on compliance and outcomes - are policies and commitments mostly rhetoric?
There is a gap between a company making known its intention to respect children’s rights – in the form of policies/commitments – on the one hand, and disclosing the degree to which these intentions are being translated into action and having the desired effect on the other. As is shown in the graph, companies throughout the sector score considerably better on indicators related to the Policies & Commitments area as compared to Implementation and Reporting & Actions.
Overall, there is a lack of follow-through with respect to making disclosures, and it is unclear how policies and commitments are being enforced or implemented, and whether they are having the desired effects.
This is especially true for the IT Software & Services industry, where we see the largest drop in average scores between Policies & Commitments and the other two response areas (Implementation and Reporting & Actions). This indicates that the industry has work to do to reach the levels of their sector peers and could learn from establishing similar disclosure practices.
A majority of companies in the sector can do more to offer tangible proof that they are committed to children. Giving lip service to supporting the rights of children without comparable action is not sufficient. What’s needed is a shift from articulating policy to implementing policy solutions, and this should be done in a way that is transparent as to progress (or lack thereof when that is the case), and outcomes.
A heartening exception to the above findings is in the area of supporting parents through family-friendly workplaces, e.g. parental leave beyond legal requirements, flexible work hours, options to stay at home with a sick child, support for breast-feeding mothers, childcare benefits, support for migrating parents, etc. Here we see that companies in the sector score quite well on the indicator for having special initiatives or programmes on family-friendly workplaces. With 76% of all companies receiving the highest score of 10 for including a child perspective in their disclosures on the topic, it is in fact one of the highest scoring indicators of all. However, only 44% score 10 for disclosing a corresponding policy on the topic. A possible explanation is that this kind of policy is often part of an internal HR policy and is therefore not publicly disclosed.
3 A lower score of 5 is awarded to those companies who disclose on having general workers’ well-being initiatives which are not specifically focused on parents or caregivers’ ability to care for their children.