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Children's Rights and Private Corporations

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This is a presentation that I gave during a masters seminar in Children's Rights at Ryerson University's Masters of Early Childhood Studies program. Please contact me for more information or visit www.nickpetten.com to read the accompanying paper on the same topic.

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Children's Rights and Private Corporations

  1. 1. CHILDREN’S PARTICIPATORYRIGHTSIN PRIVATE ECONOMIC ACTIVITY1Wednesday, 12 June, 13This presentation is highly explorative and theoretical. This work represents some very newideas and lacks any empirical evidence. As such, I hope that my work can contribute to anexpanding research paradigm that will inform practice in the greater economic world.The reason why i decided to focus on this area, is based on three main assumptions.
  2. 2. ASSUMPTIONS•the emerging digitally-facilitated knowledge economy(Hargreaves, 2003)•a new set of technical skills and abilities to succeed(Kellner, 2003)•the overly simplistic perspective of children by privatecorporations (Petten, 2012)2Wednesday, 12 June, 13As a society, we are rapidly coming into a digitally-facilitated knowledge economy.The knowledge economy is one in which economic growth and prosperity is increasinglyinfluenced by the creation of new knowledge through multiple literacies, including reading,film making, coding and software design.Through our education system, children will need a new set of technical skills and abilities inorder to succeed in this new economy--not only to work and produce economic value, buteven to participate politically, and have a rich and full social life. (I should also mention: thatsoft social skills, like empathy are important in this new society. The development ofFacebook and other social networking skills are challenging the old ways in which weconceive of social relationships.)My last assumption is that private corporations have an overly simplistic perspective ofchildhood--that they don’t consider children’s agency and ability to understand andparticipate in economic activity and the wider “adult” world.
  3. 3. CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK•United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child•the ‘new’ sociology of childhood•critical theory of societyincrease children’s authentic participation in thebusiness strategies and operations of privatecorporations3Wednesday, 12 June, 13These three frameworks give me the tools and rationale to advocate to increase children’sauthentic participation in the business strategies and operations of private corporations.Let’s look at each one individually.
  4. 4. UNCRC ARTICLESArticle 12: “the child who is capable of forming his or her own views [has]the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child.”Article 17:“shall ensure that the child has access to information andmaterial,” through mass media that is of,“social and cultural benefit to thechild,” and in accordance with article 29 that articulates the child’s right to anappropriate education in,“preparation of the child for responsible life in afree society.”Article 28, section 3:“... contributing to the elimination of ignorance andilliteracy throughout the world and facilitating access to scientific andtechnical knowledge and modern teaching methods.”my interpretationUNCRC, 1989on Participatory Rights4Wednesday, 12 June, 13First, with these articles of the UNCRC and the emerging digitally-facilitated education system, the importance of realizing children’sparticipatory rights are paramount to the full realization of the UNCRC in today’s global economy. Digital technologies such as theInternet, personal computers, and mobile phones allow, “access to information and material (17). These digital technologies are also,“facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge,” (28) and are increasingly becoming a, “modern teaching method” (28).Furthermore, these technologies allow for the expression, whether through the use of social media, blogging, or video conferencing, on,“all matters affecting the child” (12).
  5. 5. SOCIOLOGY OF CHILDHOODThe ‘new’ sociology of childhood views children as socialactors who are capable of making sense of andparticipating in society. (Matthews, 2007)5Wednesday, 12 June, 13
  6. 6. CRITICALTHEORYA critical theory framework that allows for,“more inclusivepositions and to connect education directly todemocratization and the changing of social relations in thedirection of equality and social justice” (Kellner, 2003, p. 13)6Wednesday, 12 June, 13Kellner also took into account the emerging capitalistic, knowledge society and the powerdynamics within our education system. His theory allows for progressive social change withinthis system.
  7. 7. UNCRCParticipatoryRights‘new’ sociologyof childhoodcritical theoryof societyincrease children’s authentic participation in the businessstrategies and operations of private corporationsPUTTING ITTOGETHERbut first...myassumptions7Wednesday, 12 June, 13Putting all these conceptual frameworks together, I propose to increase children’s authenticparticipation in the business strategies and operations of private corporations.But first, let’s consider the the historical and current relationships between rights and privatecorporations....
  8. 8. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RIGHTS ANDPRIVATE CORPORATIONSParticipatoryRightsExploitationHighChildren’sParticipationChild Labour in sweatshopsChild prostitutionAdvertising and Marketingeducational technologychild work in family businessentrepreneurial activitiesyouth employmentProtective Rightschildren as designerschildren as decision-makersTelevisionresearch with childrentraditional research on childrenQuadrant 2.2Quadrant 1.1Quadrant 2.1Quadrant 1.2traditional behaviouralresearch on childrenLowHighLowchildren as customersand clients8Wednesday, 12 June, 13This quadrant diagram represents the relationship between different levels of children’sparticipation and exploitation, and how protective and participatory rights influence privateeconomic activity.In this case, I use the word, “participation” to represent children’s agency in society whom areable to fully express and convey their own views, opinions and perspectives.
  9. 9. ExploitationHighChild Labour in sweatshopsChild prostitutioneducational technologychild work in family businessentrepreneurial activitiesyouth employmentchildren as designerschildren as decision-makersresearch with childrenQuadrant 2.2Quadrant 1.1Quadrant 2.1Quadrant 1.2LowHighLowprogress on protective rightsfor states:•UNCRC Article•int’l and nat’l legalframeworksfor private business:•UN and UNICEF CSR•UN Global Compact•Children’s Rights andBusiness PrinciplesEfforts to reduce harmful exploitationchildren as customersand clientsChildren’sParticipation9Wednesday, 12 June, 13I would argue that we’ve been pretty good at reducing extreme forms of exploitation bybusinesses. Several articles in the UNCRC mention the need to reduce harmful exploitation.As a consequence of the international rights movement, several international and nationallegal frameworks have been constructed to protect children from harmful work, like extremeforms of child labour and prostitution. However, most of these frameworks articulate stateobligations--not business obligations.Considering the increasing wealth, power, and influence of private corporations, there hasbeen a recent international movement to hold private corporations accountable to children’srights.For example, the UN and UNICEF have recently released initiatives to engage privatecorporations to respect and promote children’s rights in their business strategies andoperations.The UN Global Compact, a UN department that is dedicated to working with privatebusinesses to promote rights, launched an initiative called, Children’s Rights and BusinessPrinciples. Their flagship document, outlines 12 guidelines for private corporations to respectand promote children’s rights.However, there is a relatively no mention of participatory rights.
  10. 10. Quadrant 2.2 Quadrant 1.2ExploitationHighChild Labour in sweatshopsChild prostitutionAdvertising and Marketingeducational technologychild work in family businessentrepreneurial activitiesyouth employmentchildren as designerschildren as decision-makersTelevisionresearch with childrentraditional research on childrenQuadrant 1.1Quadrant 2.1traditional behaviouralresearch on childrenLowHighLowprogress onparticipatory rightsChildren’s efforts for economic rights•The Christian Workers’Movement in Peru in 1979child labour is seen as a necessary evil, and it isbetter to recognize children’s activeparticipation and advocacy in creating saferworking conditionsTwo sets of arguments:children’s work can contribute to their personaldevelopment and prepare them to play aresponsible and meaningful role in their societiesQuadrant 2.2 Quadrant 1.2Children’sParticipationchildren as customersand clients10Wednesday, 12 June, 13Where can we look for movements in recognizing children’s participatory rights?To illustrate the high exploitation quadrants, several movements in Latin America have beenidentified where children stood up for their rights as workers.One such children’s movement, called, The Christian Workers’ Movement was founded inPeru in 1979 in order to recognize children’s economic rights and give them a new legalsituation in order to improve their working conditions. Their slogan is: “Yes to work, no toexploitation”.Their argument is that child labour is inevitable in the existing capitalist system and thepoverty resulting from it (Berge, 2007). Therefore, child labour is seen as a necessary evil,and it is better to recognize children’s active participation and advocacy in creating saferworking conditions.Another argument, articulated by Liebel (2002), is that children’s work can contribute to theirpersonal development and prepare them to play a responsible and meaningful role in theirsocieties.These positions have lead to an active debate: whether children should be able to workconsidering our current economic systems.
  11. 11. DISCUSSIONAs child rights advocates, do we support children’s right towork, or do we protect them so that they can focus ontheir education and development?11Wednesday, 12 June, 13If child labour is inevitable, should we recognize children as workers and give them the samerights to safe working conditions? Or, should we continue working towards a fair andequitable society where children don’t have to work because their parents and caregivers areable to afford a decent lifestyle and education for their children?
  12. 12. ExploitationHighChild Labour in sweatshopsChild prostitutionAdvertising and Marketingeducational technologychild work in family businessentrepreneurial activitiesyouth employmentchildren as designerschildren as decision-makersTelevisionresearch with childrentraditional research on childrenQuadrant 2.2Quadrant 1.1Quadrant 2.1Quadrant 1.2traditional behaviouralresearch on childrenLowHighLowChildren’s Advertising and Marketingchildren’s perceptions oftelevision and commercials•capable of makingdistinctions•able to articulate theirperceptionchildren’s consumer rights•children influencingparental purchasingbehaviours•the subsequent effect onmarketplacesChildren’sParticipationchildren as customersand clients12Wednesday, 12 June, 13Let’s consider the relationship between children’s rights and private corporations in a NorthAmerican context. Relative to the developing world, there are low levels of exploitation in thiscontext. However, we still have lots of work to do in terms of fully realizing the UNCRC andall the rights of the child--namely, participatory rights.Let’s take a look at this lower left quadrant, where there is low exploitation and low levels ofchildren’s voice.One economic activity that is controlled by private corporations is advertising and marketing.(remember the last time you were at a GAP Kids Store, have you noticed the height of theclothing displays? Or, children’s television commercials: are they geared towards children oradults? How can they be exploitative?)Some studies have taken a look at children’s perceptions of advertising and marketing andfound that children are capable of making distinctions between television shows andcommercials. Another study, that based its argument on children’s consumer rights, foundthat children had considerable influence on their parents purchasing behaviours, whichsubsequently influenced economic markets (Nicholls and Cullen, 2004). Additionally, childrensometimes felt exploited by advertising and marketing which had a negative effect on theperception of the company.My point here is that children are aware of the economic world around them and continuallymake distinctions and judgements. It is time for private corporations to realize this andincorporate children’s authentic participation in their business strategies and operations.
  13. 13. educational technologychildren as designerschildren as decision-makersresearch with childrenQuadrant 2.2Quadrant 1.1Quadrant 2.1Quadrant 1.2Realizing the full rights of childrenUN’s efforts toengage privatecorporationsimportance ofCorporate SocialResponsibilityliterature on theknowledge societyand ed. tech.Examples:•research with children (Matthews, 2007)•children has design partners (Druin, 2003, 2002)•children as urban planners (Knowles-Yánez, 2005)13Wednesday, 12 June, 13Finally, we have, what i argue is the optimal area for children’s participation in economicactivity, where exploitation is low and participation is high. Considering the recentmovements by the UN to engage with private corporations, the increasing importance ofcorporate social responsibility, and the literature on the emerging knowledge society,children have a unique opportunity to realize their participatory rights in private economicactivity.One recent inspirational trend is in the academic research field. The involvement of childrenin the design and development of research and the acknowledgement of their social agency isgrowing rapidly (Matthews, 2007).Another example is working with children as design partners in the development ofeducational technologies. Allison Druin from the University of Maryland is leading someinteresting work that is paving the way to include children as full participants in the design ofeducational technologies that will ultimately be used to support their own education. Forexample, she is working with children to design new digital libraries for children--childrenprovide the knowledge on how to best organize data to make it more accessible. Additionally,she uses some innovative approaches to engaging children in this work.The last example, is involving children in local land use planning in cities. For example,UNICEF launched an initiative called Child Friendly Cities which seeks to revampgovernmental structures of cities to accommodate for the right’s of the child.In another study, children reported that they preferred land use variety and places associatedwith activity and social interaction (Talen and Coffindaffer, 1999).Often, urban planning is influenced by the decisions and initiatives of private corporationsand are based on an economic model rather than social networks (Chawla, 2006).
  14. 14. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RIGHTS ANDPRIVATE CORPORATIONSParticipatoryRightsExploitationHighChild Labour in sweatshopsChild prostitutionAdvertising and Marketingeducational technologychild work in family businessentrepreneurial activitiesyouth employmentProtective Rightschildren as designerschildren as decision-makersTelevisionresearch with childrentraditional research on childrenQuadrant 2.2Quadrant 1.1Quadrant 2.1Quadrant 1.2traditional behaviouralresearch on childrenLowHighLowChildren’sParticipationchildren as customersand clients14Wednesday, 12 June, 13

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