Child Rights and Global Supply Chains

UNICEF, United Nations Global Compact, and Save the Children have developed The Children’s Rights and Business Principles. To implement these principles, UNICEF is undertaking a global supply chains program, including ongoing collaborations with businesses such as Marks and Spencer.


UNICEF, together with the United Nations Global Compact and Save the Children has developed The Children’s Rights and Business Principles.  The Principles outline how businesses can respect and support children’s rights in the workplace, marketplace and community. They also describe how businesses can make a corporate commitment to supporting children’s rights.

To implement these principles, UNICEF is undertaking a global supply chains program, including ongoing collaborations with businesses such as Marks and Spencer, and interventions on tea plantations.  In 2016 UNICEF launched a new workplace focused program, comprised of three pillars that focus on:  testing interventions (including WASH) inside factories/farms, rethinking service delivery in communities for working families, and joint action (policy/advocacy) to create the right enabling environment.

In 2017, the workplace program will be rolled out in 10 factories in Bangladesh, 5 factories in Vietnam, and 5 palm oil plantations in Indonesia. The programme currently focuses on the following commodities # tea, apparel and footwear, palm oil, and cocoa.

In Bangladesh: UNICEF partnership with M&S:

Marks & Spencer want to understand the needs of the workers within their supply chain—beyond the factory gates. They are working to support suppliers with initiatives and programmes that improve their operations.

Marks & Spencer want to implement programmes throughout their supply chain and in all of the manufacturing sites where their products are made to help both their workers and their local communities.

Marks & Spencer have partnered with UNICEF to run a pilot community programme in Bangladesh’s slums. It is a holistic multi-intervention model addressing the interconnected challenges for children at critical moments of their development, looking across healthcare, nutrition, education, protection, water and sanitation.

Improving water and sanitation in two locations close to Marks & Spencer’s factories was a significant part of the programme. UNICEF and its local partners were building and improving latrines and water points, educating people on sanitation as well as setting up child care day centres, early learning schools and pre-primary classes, among many other activities.

UNICEF’s partnership with the Assam Branch of the Indian Tea Association (ABITA):

A partnership between UNICEF and the Assam Branch of the Indian Tea Association (ABITA) has contributed to an improvement  in the lives of excluded and marginalized children and women living in 128 of the state’s tea gardens by raising awareness of their  survival, well-being and development and leveraging government  resources to meet the health, nutrition and water and sanitation needs of these communities.

This partnership was a strategic choice, allowing UNICEF to take advantage of ABITA’s capacity to bring tea company workers and management together  in order to advocate for children’s rights and undertake an integrated approach to maternal  and child health and nutrition, as well as adolescent protection and empowerment.

For its part, ABITA’s position representing the managements of tea garden companies  gave it a platform to motivate its members to look beyond their workers as merely a  workforce and invest in children and women as a long-term, cost-effective strategy to  enhance productivity and profit. With UNICEF’s advocacy demonstrating that children and  adolescents must have rights and be healthy to grow into productive adulthood, ABITA’s  member companies could be made to understand the importance of their well-being to the  future of the tea industry.

In 2006, UNICEF began a formal partnership with ABITA with an Integrated Young Child  Survival (IYCS) programme aimed at addressing the health, nutrition, and water and  sanitation needs of vulnerable children and their mothers living in the labour lines. The  programme focused on improving and strengthening maternal and child health services at  tea garden-managed hospitals, including promoting institutional deliveries and facilitating  quality outreach; improving the quality of tea-garden managed crèches and government  run day-care centres on the estates, including nutrition counselling; and on technology  transfer for low-cost home toilets, water quality surveillance and water security. Promotion  of desired behaviours relating to maternal health, newborn care, infant and young child  nutrition, hand-washing and personal hygiene was integral to this process.

UNICEF’s annual investment of approximately US$95,000 over the five-year duration of the partnership (2006–2011) was devoted to technical and human resource support for advocacy, capacity-building,  social mobilization and behaviour change communication.  This investment has, since 2009, led the state of Assam to spend nearly US$10 million (US$7 million for health and US$2.4 million  for water and sanitation) on the expansion of the national flagship programmes into the tea gardens, bringing issues related to the betterment of the tea communities to the forefront of the development agenda at both state and national levels.

Palm Oil – Indonesia and Malaysia:

UNICEF conducted an assessment on how children are impacted by the cultivation of oil palm in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The study identifies seven main impact areas and a number of root causes. One of the impact areas in Indonesia is related to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). While particularly large plantations usually provide housing for workers, access to adequate supplies of clean water and improved sanitation vary significantly, contributing to diarrhoeal and other diseases.

This study has been part of the roll-out of the Children’s Rights and Business Practices (CRBP) in Indonesia and Malaysia. UNICEF Indonesia is now using the findings to bring together producers, buyers along the supply chain and government partners to strengthen existing regulations and certification platforms, and to develop models on how to improve living conditions and opportunities for children living on or near plantations. These can become an important contribution to Indonesia’s efforts towards achieving the SDGs.

Country(ies) where the intervention is taking place

Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Cote d’Ivoire.

Lead Organization

UNICEF with partners.

Who is involved?

National business owners (apparel, tea, cocoa, palm oil); industry bodies (Vietnam Chamber of Commerce, Indian tea association, Roundtable on sustainable palm oil), partnerships with Government, NGOs, engagement with international brands.

In Bangladesh: Marks & Spencer (M&S).

In India: The Assam Branch of the  Indian Tea Association (ABITA).


Modeling best practice to improve working conditions and living conditions for children, workers and families # and to scale up through global supply chains.

Target markets

Apparel and footwear, tea, palm oil, cocoa.

Workplace Setting

Factories (approx 15 beginning in 2017), tea and palm oil plantations (approx 5 beginning in 2017), cocoa farms beginning 2018.

Scope of intervention

Suppliers, communities, advocacy and policy action (enabling environment); brand engagement.

Which elements of WASH are covered?

Water, sanitation and hygiene.

Which elements of the Framework for Business Action on WASH are covered?

Taking action.

Methodology and tools that have been developed or are planned

Baseline tool, orientation module, in-depth baseline, intervention package on WASH in workplace, in-depth training programme on WASH4work; guidance on engaging private sector in WASH programming; case studies on advocacy/joint action to create an enabling environment.

UNICEF’s partnership with the Assam Branch of the Indian Tea Association (ABITA):

Staff from the tea garden-managed hospitals and crèches were trained, along with frontline government health workers, in routine immunization, the Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illness (IMNCI), infant and young child nutrition practices, and the prevention and management of acute diarrhoeal disease. Campaigns to raise community awareness of iodine deficiency disorders, hand-washing and sanitation, with the active participation of mothers’ groups from the tea gardens and frontline health and nutrition workers, served to complement the training.

Indicators/metrics that have been developed to track progress

Baseline for workplace setting has been developed with WASH chapter; more detailed WASH baseline will be developed for the second phase. Community profiling tool for areas surrounding workplace also to be developed; which will include strong WASH component.

In Bangladesh: UNICEF uses a number of key performance indicators that measure the number of people reached directly by its projects. It was noticed that there is a social benefit from the overall uplift in community health that results from better access to water and sanitation and other UNICEF provided services. In terms of impact assessment, the short term KPIs look at the outputs of the programmes, but on a longer-term basis, UNICEF will measure some outcomes as well.

Government partners and/or the local policy environment

In Bangladesh:

It was noticed that the government policy was influenced as a result of Marks & Spencer interventions with UNICEF. The government has already taken over the running of several water points, taking clear responsibility for providing clean water for the population.

In India:

The entry of the Indian Government’s own development programmes into the tea gardens – until recently seen as private domains – and especially the reaching out to casual workers who, although they live in the tea garden labour lines, are employed seasonally and thus do not enjoy the protection of the Plantations Labour Act, has definitely contributed to accelerating the coverage of benefits to this disadvantaged population.

UNICEF’s larger mandate has also made it possible to negotiate with the Indian Government to prioritize the tea communities as a critical segment of the population requiring attention.

In Indonesia:

UNICEF has been engaging with relevant Ministries in Indonesia, as well as the Government-led Indonesian Palm Oil (ISPO) certification scheme, to promote the inclusion of child rights criteria in existing sustainability standards.

Outcomes, successes and ongoing challenges

Research studies provide initial findings on WASH impact in the workplace and in these communities.

In Bangladesh: UNICEF partnership with M&S:

UNICEF is now looking to scale its interventions in Bangladesh. The current pilot in Bangladesh reached over 30,000 residents and the ambition is to reach 200,000 by increasing the size of current programmes and extending to different locations. Collaboration is key to making an impact at scale and UNICEF is reaching out to additional brands and retailers so that together the wider garment sector can improve children’s lives.

In India: UNICEF partnership with ABITA – outcomes:

Overall, the partnership has brought about a visible change in key child survival and development indicators in the 128 project gardens. An estimated 40 per cent of families now have access to household latrines and safe water, leading to a decrease in diarrhoea-related mortality.

In India: UNICEF partnership with ABITA – key successes:

One of the key successes of the UNICEF-ABITA partnership was the prioritization of children from the tea communities as an important constituency in ABITA’s advocacy with its member tea companies. As a result, tea garden managements are now sensitive to the “development versus welfare approach” and are adopting interventions that address children’s well-being and development, notably in the areas of health, nutrition, and water and sanitation, as well as protection. However, sustaining these interventions over the long term would require the tea industry to mobilize additional resources, which, at times, could conflict with their commercial or other interests.

In India: UNICEF partnership with ABITA – lessons learned:

By addressing the issue of equity and extending coverage of benefits to the disadvantaged population of labourers in 128 of the tea gardens of Assam, the UNICEF-ABITA partnership was able to create an example of good practice and also establish an innovative public-private partnership model for health and sanitation.

The initiative was able to bring about a gradual shift in the mindset of ABITA’s member companies, from a welfare-oriented approach to their workforce to a developmental approach.

In India: UNICEF partnership with ABITA – ongoing challenges:


The lack of disaggregated data on development indicators concerning the tea communities has made it difficult to measure the direct impact of any intervention on the status of children and women in the tea gardens. To address this gap, efforts are underway by UNICEF with both the state of Assam and ABITA to collect such data.

The sustainability of interventions remains a challenge. The socio-political environment in Assam, coupled with changing priorities, has made it imperative for UNICEF to accelerate its advocacy not only with ABITA, but also with other tea associations and with government at the highest level, to ensure that the gains made so far are built upon and taken to scale. On the other hand, there is also the need to motivate the tea communities to be active partners in their own development and not just passive recipients of services.

Links to learn more


Subajini Jayasekaran (Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at UNICEF).


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