Address by Parliamentary Secretary Lois Brown: Canadian Launch of the Children's Rights and Business Principles

February 13, 2014 – Toronto, Ontario
Check Against Delivery

Thank you for that kind introduction. Good morning, ladies and gentleman. 

I'm pleased to join you today on behalf of Minister Paradis, who sends his regrets for not being here. I would also like to recognize Diane Jacovella, Assistant Deputy Minister for Global Issues and Development, who is here today to mark this important launch.

On behalf of the Government of Canada, we are all very excited about today's launch.

I would like to thank Save the Children, UNICEF and the UN Global Compact for all their hard work to get the Children's Rights and Business Principles off the ground.

With more than 30 national launches around the world, you have inspired companies, governments and civil society to become champions for child rights and protection.

With the launch of the Children's Rights and Business Principles in Canada, you are inspiring Canadian companies and civil society here to do the same. You are leading the way!

Because our Government's top development priority is maternal, newborn and child health, we are very proud to support this initiative. 

The principles go hand-in-hand with our priority to secure the future of children and youth, stimulate sustainable economic growth, and promote private sector engagement in sustainable development.

They also speak to Canadian values, like respect for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Canada has a strong history of supporting children's rights, and we recognize the importance of international standards to protect children from violence, exploitation and harm. 

This includes the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

It has been said that children are one third of our population, and all of our future.

They are — quite literally — our most precious resource.

If we protect their rights...if we keep them safe from harm, including the worst forms of child labour...if we help them grow up to be healthy and educated and encourage their participation in society, these children could lead a brand new industry.....cure a dreaded disease....or touch a far horizon that we can't even glimpse yet.

Governments, companies, civil society, individuals — we all have a role to play in ensuring that children, particularly those living in developing countries, have a chance at a fulfilling their potential today, so they can have a brighter future.

But in order to do this, public and private sectors need to work in synch, not at odds, with one another.

As many of you know, it was a Canadian academic and former UN official, John Ruggie, who led the ground-breaking UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which called for companies to pay particular attention to the health, safety and well-being of children.

The Children's Rights and Business Principles are a direct response to that.

These 10 principles offer guidance to companies on how to respect and support children's rights in the workplace, marketplace and the community.

The principles also remind us that girls may face different risks than boys, so actions should be tailored accordingly.

Compliance is voluntary, but make no mistake: this is not window-dressing.

Canadian companies understand that it is in their best interest to follow responsible business practices in order to maintain or achieve their social license to operate.

Respect for children's rights is not add-on. It's not charity work.

Businesses are increasingly recognizing that this is part of their long-term return on investment.

The business case for respecting and supporting children's rights is clear.

Supporting the health, education and safety of children is vital to creating a stable and productive business environment.

Taking positive action for children's rights is key to building strong relationships with the communities in which companies work.

And promoting skills-training and youth employment is critical to ensure that the next generation has the skills businesses need to prosper.

I am encouraged to hear that so many companies are integrating these considerations into their operations.

Companies like Sherritt International—from whom we will hear in a few minutes—are doing great work to protect children from exploitation, violence and abuse. 

And IKEA is taking an industry-wide approach to eliminating child labour.

This is welcomed and encouraged.

Our Government recognizes the tremendous power of the private sector to reduce poverty, improve people's lives and transform communities.

That's why we are broadening the opportunities for the private sector—local, Canadian and multinational—to contribute their expertise towards improving children's lives in developing countries.

We have a leadership story to tell:

  • Our Government's child protection partnership with Microsoft, the RCMP, the International Institute for Children's Rights and Development, UNICEF Canada and others, has protected thousands of children in Thailand and Brazil from online sexual exploitation.
  • In Ghana, our Government supports a project implemented by the World University Service of Canada and co-financed by Rio Tinto Alcan to strengthen the local government's ability to provide quality education and for 134,000 people affected by mining operations, access to clean, safe water. The project also provides skills training to 325 young people to help diversify their local economy.
  • Canada is also part of alliances like the Zinc Alliance for Child Health with Teck Resources and the Micronutrient Initiative to develop and implement zinc treatment programs to improve nutrition and help save millions of children's lives. I've seen the results of this initiative in Africa and Bangladesh – thanks for the difference you are making!

I have given you just a few examples, but there are many more.

Ladies and gentlemen, by coming together today, you are showing mutual accountability for children's rights.

And this is what good leadership is all about.

It's important to remember that before Mr. Ruggie introduced the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, no one used the term “human rights due diligence” in the business context.

Now, it's a permanent part of the international business lexicon.

It's great to see that the Children's Rights and Business Principles take that one step further, offering companies additional guidance on how to respect human rights, particularly those of children.

Now, businesses in more than 30 countries around the world—including here in Canada—are better placed to evaluate their operations through the lens of children's rights and take more concrete steps to make a meaningful difference.

I have told you about our leadership stories, but I would like to share one more story with you.

May I tell you a story about a young man who grew up in Kumasi, Ghana?

  • A young man named Kofi Asante who came to Canada to study at Laurentian University.
  • A young man who fell in love with a Canadian girl named Shannon.
  • Who finished his Phd. in electrical engineering.
  • And who has taken his expertise and his bride back to Ghana to help Ghana flourish.

So, I'll tell you why I am so passionate about development issues.... Because Dr. Kofi Asante is my son-in-law and he is contributing to Ghana's development and ensuring a more secure future for the children of Ghana.

Thank you for protecting children.

Thank you for being an inspiration.

And thank you for being leaders!