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Respecting children’s rights at every step

What are the rights of a child? What are the responsibilities of a company? Is it only about avoiding child labour? We talked to Alinde Melin, the Global Human Rights and Children’s Rights Leader at IKEA, about what children’s rights are and why IKEA is focused on ensuring that all its business decisions promote the best interests of children.

For as long as she can remember, Alinde Melin wanted to work with something where her contribution could make a difference. So, in 2017 she joined IKEA to work with children’s and human rights. As a global business, IKEA touches the lives of millions, creating a positive impact – exactly what Alinde was looking for.

“Companies most often have a huge impact on children, and therefore, great responsibility to act. In a business with the right ambition, you can achieve real change,” says Alinde, who leads the strategic agenda to integrate a children’s rights perspective into all business decisions and activities across IKEA.

Children’s rights & IKEA

Children’s rights are essentially a subset of human rights, says Alinde. Written in the Convention on the Rights of The Child, they are meant to protect children universally, by offering the right to associate with both parents, a human identity, physical protection, food, education, and health care, among others. The rights also include protecting a child’s civil rights and freedom from discrimination based on a range of characteristics, including race, gender, gender identity, nationality, religion, disability, ethnicity, and others.

Alinde Melin at a table, with posters and wooden shelving on the walls behind her.

Alinde Melin, Global Human Rights and Children’s Rights Leader at IKEA.

For IKEA, it’s important that children are recognised as individuals with their own rights and can grow up in a safe, inclusive and caring environment.

To put this into practice, IKEA has decided to integrate a child’s rights perspective into all business activities.

“When it comes to the supply chain, it’s important to be aware of the risks for children connected to the sourcing process. We need to be aware of specific risks in different sectors, materials, and geographies and for every step of the process – from extracting raw materials to production. What is the condition for children there? Is there for example a risk of child labour?” says Alinde.

As a part of the 2021 action pledge to eliminate child labour, IKEA will join the ILO Child Labour Platform this year. With this membership, the IKEA business will increase efforts on child labour due diligence and accelerate the collaboration with other partners to tackle issues further down the supply chain.

A small girl lying on a wooden floor, painting with colour pencils next to a wooden train set.

But the integration of children’s rights doesn’t stop with eliminating child labour.

Children’s rights fit in everywhere, and it requires us to really consider how our operations may impact on children when we say that we respect children’s rights

Integrating children’s rights into business means becoming aware of the different ways operations and practices may affect children, directly and indirectly and then acting on that impact. For example, the employment practices a company offers to a parent can affect the time they spend with their child.

“Children’s rights fit in everywhere, and it requires us to really consider how our operations may impact on children when we say that we respect children’s rights. We’re looking into our work policies, wages that we provide, parental leaves, etc., to understand the impact on children. We are exploring how we can strengthen our approach to being a family-friendly business.”

Way forward

Alinde, along with others, is also looking into operations such as marketing and communications to ensure child rights are upheld.

Three women eating hotdogs on a dock in a harbour, with a small boat in the background.

A portrait of Alinde Melin smiling.

For example, IKEA is developing a guideline on how the brand will responsibly portray and address children in its marketing and communication and ensure that children’s rights are taken into consideration always.

“It will help our co-workers to think twice when making decisions that might affect children. We want everyone to be empowered to make conscious decisions around for example diversity aspects or ensuring that we don’t use children as brand ambassadors or props in our communication,” says Alinde.

The guide is a first step in developing the IKEA approach to responsible communication and children.

This leaves us with a great responsibility to ensure we do everything we can to prevent any risks to children and that we have strong processes in place should any child be harmed as a result of interacting with the IKEA business

Over the last year, IKEA has also been working on child safeguarding to ensure that children, who come in contact with the IKEA businesses, are protected and safe. Children often get in touch with IKEA through events in stores, in product development and testing as well as suppliers, home-visits at customers’ residence, etc.

“This leaves us with a great responsibility to ensure we do everything we can to prevent any risks to children and that we have strong processes in place should any child be harmed as a result of interacting with the IKEA business,” says Alinde.

Why is IKEA focusing on children’s rights?
“It has very much to do with who we are as a business, our identity, values, and the fact that we care for children. And that’s what sits behind our commitment to respect children’s rights. In addition, we also have a clear expectation placed on us as a business. The Children’s Rights and Business Principles provides an international standard of expected business conduct. So, there’s a more formal expectation that we are also responding to in driving our child rights agenda.”

Are IKEA operations 100% child labour free?
“Our starting point is of course that we do not accept child labour. Children have the right to their childhood, to access education and to develop and thrive and IKEA acts to ensure we do everything we can to protect these rights. At the same time, no company of our size and with global supply chains, can be 100 per cent certain. If you claim that, then you haven’t understood the complexities of child labour. Because child labour is often an effect of other issues in society, it could be poverty, the lack of access to education, or the lack of access to decent work for parents.

This week ILO and UNICEF released new global estimates on child labour, sadly showing a reverse trend and increase child labour to 160 million children. This is alarming news that calls for urgent actions from us as businesses as well as other actors of society.

Tackling child labour requires continuous efforts and systematic work that is also preventative. When risk factors connected to child labour, such as economic situation in a country or political instabilities arise, then our system needs to be alert to address the potential risks to children as well as other stakeholder groups.”

Our commitment is that we will integrate children’s rights into everything that we do

What is the biggest challenge when it comes to integrating children’s rights?
“Our commitment is that we will integrate children’s rights into everything that we do. It’s a very holistic approach. But when it comes to ‘what’ and ‘how we go about it’, we still have a long way to go. We have set an ambitious roadmap ahead, but we need to continuously look at the different parts of our operations and understand what integrating children’s rights mean. As our business, and the contexts that we operate in continue to develop, so does the need to adapt and strengthen our approach to children’s rights. It requires that we apply the perspective in all parts of the business over and over again.”

Five facts about Alinde

From: Gothenburg, Sweden

Most exciting work assignment right now: I’m really excited about our soon to be rolled out guide for responsible marketing and children!

Watching/reading right now: Dare I admit it? Watching Grey’s Anatomy third time around.

Key 2021 agenda: In work, just finalizing a big project where we have done a human rights baseline assessment across Inter IKEA Group. Currently planning next steps on how to move from assessment to action. Personal, I’m renovating my house

Wish I could change: Is it possible to answer anything other than climate change?

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