In August, a few UK magazines ran the 'Oh Lola! advert which featured Dakota Fanning holding a bottle of Marc Jacob's 'Oh Lola' perfume in what 'some' believed to be a sexually provocative pose. 'Some' in this context happened to be four people who complained to the Advertising Standards Agency. Despite four not being a significant number, the Agency acted swiftly and issued a ban to all UK advertisers not to run the advert.
Unsurprisingly, Coty UK, the makers of the perfume challenged the decision, claiming that the image was "similar to many other edgy images in those magazines." Of course, how 'edgy' is defined is open to interpretation, and I'm sure there are equal numbers of people who do not think it is 'inappropriate' compared to those that do, if the blog responses on the various newspapers that have covered this story is anything to go by.
However, strip away the issue and let's focus on what happened.
The photographer, advertiser and relevant entourage were willing to shoot and create such an image.
The perfume manufacturer was willing to agree on such an image.
The publishing houses were willing to print such an image. Responding to the ASA, the Sunday Times said: "Their publication was marketed to adults with an interest in cutting edge fashion and that any sexual connotations that may have been associated with the ad would be reduced because of that target audience."
All of the companies involved have corporate responsibility departments, Codes of Conduct, annual CSR statements and personnel, who no doubt, are committed to improving their company's CSR performance.
However, what we have here is a case of business and its responsibility to respect human rights, and specifically the rights of the child, in action.
Had any of the companies involved decided to consider and assess any potential harmful impacts arising from the selected photo image, it's probable that they would have opted to select the other photo of Dakota Fanning sporting the perfume bottle by her cheek. And, in light of the ASA's assessment findings, it's unlikely they would have banned that particular image.
Following the six year mandate of the former UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie, many companies now openly acknowledge that they have a responsibility to respect human rights, and recognize the importance of assessing the human rights impacts of their existing and planned activities.
Thankfully, the Children's Rights and Business Principles, a joint UNICEF, UN Global Compact and Save the Children initiative will arrive next year on the back of the UN Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework and the Guiding Principles for its implementation.
Going forward, companies will have a clear marker on what society expects them to do in relation to children's rights, and how they can ensure their activities do not adversely harm the rights of the child, intentionally or unintentionally.
*Universal Children's Day is celebrated on 20th November, every year. The date marks the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) and the Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989) by the UN General Assembly.
By Désirée Abrahams
Lucy Amis has usefully drawn attention to the failure of parts of the media industry to live up to its role in advancing the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and indeed the recent instances of abuse of the right to privacy.
For governments, this poses difficult dilemmas. Is more regulation part of the answer? The UN Guiding Principles make it clear that States have a duty to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjudication.
The problem is that any government move to introduce more regulation to protect the individual from human rights abuses by the media risks exposing that government to accusations that it is seeking to muzzle the press and restrict freedom of expression.
Last year, a government in Latin America sought, no doubt with the best of intentions, to introduce a new law against racism and discrimination, including provision for fines, suspension of licences and removal of immunity for offending media and journalists. This caused an outcry from the press, a hunger strike, protest marches and criticism from the Inter-American Press Association.
The risk of government action being counter-productive is of course even greater when the government concerned has a poor human rights record.
In most industry sectors, companies are very reluctant to criticize the human rights record of their competitors. Recent events in the UK have shown that this is not the case in the media industry, where competitors played a key role in exposing the activities of parts of News International, contributing to the closure of the newspaper regarded as the leading offender. Clearly, governments must perform their key role of law enforcement. But this is one industry in which even the most ardent advocates of regulation might conclude that market forces are more likely to produce results than more regulation.
By Graham Minter