General Comment 16 on State Obligations regarding the Impact of the Business Sector on Children's Rights: What Is Its Standing, Meaning and Effect?

Article excerpt

A lot of attention has" been paid to the responsibility of business to protect human rights generally, but very little to the role of the business sector when it comes to children's rights specifically. This lack of attention is being addressed by the United Nations Committee on the Rights" of the Child ('CRC'), which has developed a new General Comment on State Obligations regarding the Impact of the Business Sector on Children's Rights. This" article explores' the legal standing of general comments' developed by United Nations treaty committees before examining the implications of this new general comment on the business sector and children's rights. This article also analyses the innovative drafting process adopted by the CRC .for this particular general comment and considers whether that process reflects a trend towards' increased stakeholder participation in human rights norm-building on the international stage. Finally, the authors evaluate the new general comment in light of the broader international dialogue on business and human rights.


I    Introduction
II   What Is the Standing of General Comments?
       A  Source of Authority
       B  Status in Law
       C  Function in Practice
III  The Innovative Process of Developing General Comment 16
       A  The Drafting Process
       B  Trends in Interpretative Practice
IV   General Comment 16 and the Broader Business and Human Rights
       A  The Special Representative on Human Rights and Business and a
          Participatory Work Model
       B  Evaluating General Comment 16
V    Conclusion

'There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.' (1)

--Nelson Mandela


The fact that there are 193 states parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ('Convention') (2) indicates that states take children's rights seriously and have at least some degree of commitment to recognising the inherent dignity of all children and ensuring they receive the protection necessary to enable them to reach their full potential. However, the business community has not demonstrated the same degree of commitment to protecting and promoting children's rights.

Indeed, there are numerous examples of corporations perpetrating violations of children's rights. Some violations that affect populations generally--for example, deprivation of food, clean water and health services--can result in irreparable harms that affect children more acutely than adults. (3) Other violations are child-specific. For example, children have been forced to undertake hazardous forms of labour (4) and have suffered the consequences of environmental hazards caused by corporate activities. (5) Some hotels, airlines and networking websites have facilitated child trafficking. (6) Children are sexualised in the media and advertising. (7) Workplace discrimination and employer reluctance to supporting new families also harms young children. (8) The marketing of artificial breastmilk substitutes compromises infant health. (9) Lawsuits alleging violations of children's rights have been filed in a variety of jurisdictions against a number of companies, including:

* Sanlu Group (alleging child illness from melamine contaminated milk products); (10)

* Pfizer (alleging child injury and death from drug trials); (11)

* Firestone (alleging child labour); (12)

* Nestle, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (alleging child labour and trafficking); (13)

* Wet-A-Line Tours (alleging child sex recruitment); (14) and

* DuPont (alleging birth defects as a result of fungicide exposure). (15)

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child ('CRC') is seeking to prevent further violations of children's rights by corporations by developing a general comment that focuses specifically on the business sector and children's rights. …


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