Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A new CSR standard in Safeguarding

Using the Datamaran Research Tool, I looked for how many companies are talking about safeguarding in their sustainability reports. It seems, that safeguarding can be applied to just about everything.
  • Export Development Canada's 2016 Sustainability Report talks about safeguarding people and the environment 
  • Piraeus Bank talks about open communication with employees and safeguarding their ongoing development and elearning for safeguarding of Human Rights and Equal Opportunities in the workplace 
  • Wilmar International's 2016 Sustainability Report talks about safeguarding water quality
  • Statoil's 2016 Sustainability Report refers to safeguarding people, communities and assets
  • Stericycle's 2016 Sustainability Report refers to safeguarding sensitive information and helping protect against identity theft
  • Motorola Solutions 2016 Corporate Responsibility Report includes disclosures related to machine safeguarding
  • RSA Insurance Group refers to safeguarding customers' data and assets
  • American Water Works Co Inc. talks about safeguarding the nation’s long-term water supply as water demand grows
  • TDC goes for safeguarding trust and safety
  • Macquarie Infrastructure Corporation includes references to safeguarding of storm drains, overfill controls, and extensive use of LED lighting
  • SunArt Retail Group Limited includes safeguarding biodiversity
  • L'Occitane International SA goes for another type of safeguarding -safeguarding the future of bees while helping to build communities.
In fact, safeguarding has become so popular that I am thinking of safeguarding my personal ice cream supply for the next five years. As you can see, safeguarding can apply to just about anything and the use of the term safeguarding is bandied around quite freely in CSR and sustainability worlds with no real accountability for what safeguarding anything actually means and how to measure it. Maybe this is a shame, because there is one use of the term safeguarding that is arguably the most important use of all: safeguarding vulnerable children, youth and adults. I happen to know a bit about this, as my niece, Sarah Carlick, (Yay! Proud Auntie) is a leading expert on safeguarding in the UK, and runs The Athena Programme, one of the best known and most active consulting and training firms dedicated solely to safeguarding in the important sense of the word. Sarah has just completed her doctoral thesis on safeguarding, so we shall be calling her Dr. Sarah in the very near future! (Yay! Extremely Proud Auntie). Read Sarah's insights into safeguarding in a corporate context later in this post.  

Some companies stand out in their approach to safeguarding vulnerable children and adults. Pearson's Sustainability Report for 2016 includes a commitment to safeguarding adults and children. 

As a company engaged in education and supporting learners all over the world in schools, training and learning centers and other teaching facilities, and even virtual classrooms, human rights risks and challenges are very real for Pearson and it seems quite obvious that safeguarding would be directly relevant to this company's business.

Another company that has a safeguarding focus, and also rather obviously so, is LEGO. With a business designed to engage children, LEGO partners with UNICEF to implement and globally promote the Children’s Rights and Business Principles developed by UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children, and to promote the importance of play for early childhood development. LEGO's 2016 Corporate Responsibility Report also discloses what LEGO is doing to safeguard children.

LEGO's Digital Child Safety Policy was developed as an industry leading practice to ensure the welfare of children interacting with digital channels. The policy is implemented through mandatory training for employees who work directly or indirectly with children online and also applies to partners who deliver LEGO® branded experiences.

Online safety is relevant not only for companies in the education and toy development sectors. It comes up regularly as a key material topic for companies that provide internet or media content. For example, Liberty Global (whose reporting I have supported for the past several years) has invested millions in protection of children while online and watching TV (one of the company's most material impacts) through collaboration on the development of an entire set of resources for children at different stages of development and exposure, parents, teachers and schools. In 2015, Liberty Global joined the ICT Coalition for Children Online, which aims to help young people in Europe make the most of their digital life and be better equipped to handle the challenges and risks it may bring. 

There are more positive examples of safeguarding out there, enough to convince you that safeguarding is an essential element of corporate responsibility. (For those who want a fascinating and sobering read on this subject, see also Joel Bakan's Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children). Many companies, especially food companies, have responsible marketing policies where the aim is not to market directly to children under age 12 - though in practice, exposure of children to marketing in all its forms today is impossible to monitor, I believe. Most companies today explicitly prohibit child labor in their supply chains. That's an obvious one in modern times, I guess, even though there is still much work to do to achieve safe supply chains. But there are endless, not so obvious other ways that children are exposed to and are potentially at risk from the practices of corporations. This may be unintentional but it should not be unknown. Corporations have a duty of care to understand the impacts of their activities on children. I believe, however, that this topic in the broader sense of safeguarding vulnerable children and adults has flown largely under the radar and is not explicitly included in sustainability frameworks and standards such as GRI or SASB, beyond responsible marketing and avoidance of child labor. I think this could be a new area for a potential performance and reporting standard.

I want you to hear from the expert herself, Sarah Carlick, Founder and Managing Director of The Athena Programme.

Why did you choose safeguarding as your area of specialist expertise?
"Safeguarding was my background as a social worker and probation officer which I was drawn to because of my passion for helping and protecting vulnerable people. Through my work and experience of safeguarding at both a national and international level, I am now able to incorporate all areas of this important and complex topic under one umbrella which I think is the most effective way of achieving results to benefit those that are vulnerable or at risk of harm."

In a business context, what are the connections to safeguarding? What are the key safeguarding risks for companies? 
"Governance, compliance, reputation, recruitment, social media communications, customer relations and interactions are all areas where safeguarding is a relevant potential risk that must be proactively managed. For companies or organizations that have services that are used or may be used by children, families or vulnerable adults, there may well be legal compliance issues (in different countries) as well a range of potential risk areas that are not currently legislated. While businesses often look outside for the impacts of safeguarding (for example, with services used by children), there is also an internal aspect. How do companies support their own employees who may be victims of domestic abuse, for example? I think there are many connections between the practices of business and corporate responsibility to protect vulnerable children and adults, and some may not be so obvious."

Does every company need a safeguarding policy? Can you give some examples of where such a policy might be needed?
"Not every company needs a policy, but some are required to have a policy and set of procedures, for example, those that are regulated or inspected, those that apply for external funding, or those that have residential services, schools, a charitable arm, or where they employ apprentices, teachers, mentors, nurses, dentists or manage learning environments, to mention just a few cases."

In what context is it important to train company employees in safeguarding?
"It is important as safeguarding is two-fold - both protecting and supporting your staff and as well as protecting and supporting those that use your services. There are many areas that come under safeguarding, for example, modern slavery, child sexual exploitation, on-line grooming and emerging risks such as prevention from radicalization."

What can you and The Athena Programme do to help companies practice effective safeguarding? 
"Whatever your needs, Athena can help any company with everything to do with safeguarding children and/or adults at risk. If it’s about safeguarding – we’re the experts. A first step we can help with for many companies will be to map the nature, scale and impact of their activities and identify the safeguarding hotspots - immediate and/or significant risks that need to be managed. From there, we can help companies develop tailored policies and procedures, formulate communications packages, deliver training for all staff and put in place monitoring and reporting tools. For companies who are not sure, we can or simply come and speak to your management, or deliver a lecture on what to watch for. We are always happy to listen to the challenges companies face, or help them decide what the challenges are and minimize potential risks. We have strong credentials from our work over the past 10 years, so we are confident that we can help companies do better in this area."

If you are interested in exploring more, contact Sarah here. Either way, I think we are going to hear a lot more about safeguarding, and not just safeguarding anything, but safeguarding those who matter most, our children and our youth and our friends and families and communities who may not be able to protect themselves. If that's not CSR, what is?

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen) or via my business website (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

Elaine will be chairing  the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018

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