Nordics Lose Halo in Study Ranking Them With Emerging Markets

  • Nordic firms score below global average on children’s rights
  • Region’s score of 2.0 in new report below 2.9 global average

The Nordic region’s biggest companies are falling behind their global competitors when it comes to protecting children’s rights, a new study has revealed.

In a report by Global Child Forum and the Boston Consulting Group, the average score for the region’s 299 biggest companies was just 2.0 out of a maximum of 9.0. That compares with a global average of 2.9, with Nordic companies scoring closer to peers in Southern Africa and Southeast Asia, the study showed.

With Nordic companies generally enjoying a reputation for being “socially responsible forward-thinking,” the results of the study “surprised us,” Johan Oberg, managing director at Boston Consulting Group, said in the report.

Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland have a history of protecting children’s rights within their borders. Sweden was the first country in the world to make corporal punishment illegal when it enforced a ban in 1979. But the study’s findings suggest Nordic companies are failing to ensure their operations outside the region live up to similar child safety standards.

Clothing retailers such as Hennes & Mauritz AB have in the past found child workers at suppliers. After child labor was discovered at subcontractors in Pakistan in 2014, Finnish papermaker Stora Enso Oyj terminated all agreements with suppliers of used paper and packaging in the country.

Today, Stora Enso and H&M are among the Nordic region’s top performers when it comes to children’s rights, and are among the companies scoring between 6 and 9 in the report.

Stora Enso says business units regularly report to the management team on key performance indicators related to children’s rights. That area needs to be “an integral, yet explicit, part” of the overall human rights strategy, Stora Enso said in the report. “It will not work if it’s treated as an add-on issue.”

“Leadership in this area begins when business understands how children interact in their value chain, include children’s rights in their code of conduct and ensure that the highest level of company management is accountable,” Fiona Rotberg, research director at Global Child Forum and one of the authors of the report, said.

The report assesses the extent to which companies ensure their operations don’t harm children and that children’s rights are safeguarded. It found that only 10 percent of Nordic companies make their boards accountable on children rights. Though 73 percent of them have a policy or statement against child labor, only 17 percent actually report how they live up to those statements.

“There appears to be an understanding of the importance of developing a policy or statement against child labor, but there is a lack of understanding that establishing a clear system to follow up and report transparently on the child labor policy is also of key importance,” Rotberg said.

Rotberg said she hopes that the industries that received low scores will learn from those that did particularly well, such as Nokia Oyj, Ericsson AB, Telenor ASA, Amer Sports Oyj, Clas Ohlson AB and Svenska Cellulosa AB. The full report, “The Corporate Sector and Children’s Rights in the Nordic Region,” will be published on Dec. 12.

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