I haven’t written a blog for ages. It’s mostly down to me being a lot busier since becoming a Mum; however, last week I saw something that got my juices flowing, and just had to find time to put this down and share it. Last week, during my stroll, I saw this.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Right in front of me was a boy (I’m guessing around 9 years old), with his Mum and presumably sibling (in the pram) walking down the road, brandishing a toy gun, which actually looks like an imitation firearm from afar. I was horrified.
Horrified - that a mother would allow her son to have it and play with it. Horrified - that she would let him take it out in public. And lastly, and probably most of all, horrified that they still exist!
I remember growing up during the 80s and hearing debates about toy guns and the bad/ long-lasting effect it had on children. I thought the debates were had - won by the ‘anti’ lobby - and it remained a thing of the past. In the 21st century, what does a child need a toy gun for? Aren’t there enough things for children to play with these days? Surely there is more stuff out there than ever before, as designers and manufacturers find ways to invent and reinvent new things?
This got me thinking and I went on a fact-finding mission. How many toy guns could I see for sale in the shops on the high street? Which shops were they sold in? And how much did they sell for? From my brief sample in an area that will remain undisclosed, you can purchase toy guns for as little as a £1, and they are everywhere. And I’m not just talking about the water-gun types in colourful colours; most, like the one in the photo, look like miniature versions of real guns.
On the legal front, the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 in the UK restricts the manufacture, importation and sale of such products. Within the same piece of legislation, children under 18 are banned from purchasing what’s considered non-realistic imitation guns. So we can only hope that the boy in the photo wasn’t sold it in a shop, in the UK.
Which begs the question of ‘responsibility’? Who has the lion share of responsibility parents/carers or the companies that manufacture, import, advertise and sell such products?
While most would agree that parents or carers should ultimately have the lion’s share of responsibility, photos like this one suggest that maybe it’s time some companies really got to grips with corporate responsibility. I’m talking about genuine corporate responsibility. The type of actions that society would consider as the right thing to do. In essence, business decisions and actions that are driven by concepts such as ‘do no harm’ as advanced in the UN Guiding Principles and Business Human Rights, or better still, for those companies whose products or services affect children, business practice that is guided by the ‘best interests of the child’ principle.
I’ve always thought that the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (CRBP) was a great concept. A set of guiding principles laying down the foundations for what companies should do to ensure their products, services, operations and business relationships do not adversely impact the rights of children anywhere! Yes, anywhere! The CRBP highlights a multitude of children that may be adversely impacted by business activities, mostly unintentionally but sometimes, sadly, intentionally. The obvious ones are the children who supplement their parents' incomes by going out to work as child labourers, whether by choice or through coercion. However, the CRBP makes the case that companies should consider how the working lives of their employees or contractors may be negatively impacting home life based on the stresses associated with excessive working hours, poor working conditions, low pay, or all three. It considers how companies can adversely impact the lives of children they don't even know; for example, those living near a factory or manufacturing plant that may be potentially contaminating water that the local children may drink or bathe in. And of course there are the children like the boy I saw; the children that are consumers and those that will be future-consumers.
After last week’s observation, I realised the value of the CRBP even more, and believe that companies need to crank up efforts to integrate a child rights perspective into their business decisions, and assess their operations and relationships accordingly. At a minimum, those that develop products and services targeted at children should consider how it potentially impacts children in a variety of ways. For example, given that children are a vulnerable group in society, subjected to extra protections and safeguards, there is merit in assessing the potential adverse impact on a child’s psychological health arising from interaction with a product or service, as well as making sure it will not harm them physically. The toy gun in the photo, which could pass for an imitation firearm, presumably passed numerous legal, technical and product safety tests at the EU level; however, surely the most damaging aspect to any children playing with a toy looking so realistic is the potential negative and long-lasting impacts it will have on their mental health?
For companies, it’s all too easy to say that they respond to consumer demands. In my view, companies that manufacturer and/or sell stuff for children have a real opportunity to assert their corporate responsibility and actually be 'responsible'. Companies can say: "No; we won’t manufacturer or sell X, Y or Z because we believe that it would not be in the best interests of the child."
And if they were to do that, now that would be true corporate responsibility!