- The Mother and Child Friendly Seal for Responsible Business
The Centre For Child Rights and Business along with Save the Children recently launched the “Mother and Child-Friendly Seal For Responsible Business”.
Carried out in partnership with key tea sector stakeholders, the initiative surrounds the introduction of an activity-based certification scheme that supports businesses to strengthen their commitments and meaningfully invest in mothers and children in tea communities, while continually learning and improving from the results of their investments. This will be a first for Sri Lanka, and has been five years in the making.
Paving the way towards the Seal for Responsible Business
The event was opened with an address by The Centre for Child Rights and Business CEO Ines Kaempfer, who has been deeply engaged in child rights, labour rights issues and business, and human rights in the manufacturing and agriculture industries in Asia for over 15 years. In her address, she remarked that children have the right to health, education, family, play and recreation, an adequate standard of living, and protection from abuse and harm.
“Unfortunately this is not the case for all children, as such businesses can be a multiplying factor of child rights violations or an enabler of child rights,” she observed.
Kaempfer also highlighted that they support companies to respect and promote the rights of children by increasing supply chain transparency through research on child rights risks and impact assessments, improving corporate practices through corporate policy development, and inter company co-operation through their Child Rights in Business (CRIB) working group, as well as improving children’s rights in supply chains by preventing and remediating child labour, creating family-friendly workplaces, and protecting and supporting young workers.
In 2020, Kaempfer recalled that their varied programme of child rights activities supported close to 30,000 people, and by the end of 2021, more than 100 companies reported positive business benefits from implementing programmes with them that year, thereby ensuring that over 68,000 workers directly benefited from the programmes. Additionally, Kaempfer noted that over 10,000 children had the chance to spend the summer with their parents in 91 child-friendly spaces, and more than 600 cases of child labour was remediated by the centre.
Following this train of thought was Save the Children National Director Julian Chellappah, who spoke on paving the way towards the Mother and Child-Friendly Seal for Responsible Business, and Save the Children’s work in the tea sector. He began by highlighting that programmes in the tea estates are unique.
“They have remarkably improved the lives of Sri Lanka’s estate community, while revitalising the Ceylon Tea brand by creating an industry-wide value proposition,” he stated. In essence, mother and child-friendly estates persuaded the bringing together of all stakeholders to enhance the lives of the estate community – particularly through child protection, maternal, child health, nutrition, and early-childhood development – thereby enabling a healthy workforce and communicating these developments, thereby compelling buyers and re-positioning Ceylon Tea to earn a premium.
He further added: “For more than eight years, we have continuously worked to improve the lives of children living in the tea estates by Investing more than $ 1.5 million; these initiatives have paved the way for Save the Children’s strong alliance with the plantation companies, Sri Lanka Tea Board, Planters’ Association, Plantation Human Development Trust, and other stakeholders in the tea supply chain, to create sustainable standards for mother and child-friendly estates.”
Chellappah further observed that transferring implementation and management of the certification scheme to the newly established organisation, The Centre for Child Rights and Business Sri Lanka (The Centre Sri Lanka), will also be a great case study for other Save the Children offices to understand what transitioning from a classical international non-governmental organisation (INGO) operation into a social enterprise can look like.
In the future, Save The Children hopes to obtain a mother and child-friendly certification scheme for Sri Lanka’s tea industry as a whole, and will also look into developing a sustainable partnership plan for the implementation of the certification scheme. Chellappah also added that they will be promoting Children’s Rights and Business Principles (CRBP) among the tea industry and will continue to establish a strong presence.
Investing in mothers and children
Next was the keynote speech by Planters’ Association of Ceylon Chairman Bhathiya Bulumulla, who spoke on the topic of investing in mothers and children and the case for the Sri Lankan tea industry.
The examples of the Sri Lankan Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) that have already started working closely with The Centre for Child Rights and Business on initiatives such as the development and adoption of the 10 Child Rights Business Principles have, according to Bulumulla, shown the value of engaging businesses with the communities they are connected to, in order to drive real progress on their shared goals. In the process, he noted, these programmes are helping to establish common ground for further development, “because strengthening the communities we are a part of is what ultimately sustains the enterprises we are seeking to drive forward into a new era”.
Especially when comparing with regional competitors, and despite all of the challenges we face today, Bulumulla added that they believe that the steadfast progress that Sri Lanka’s tea industry has made in addressing many of the socioeconomic disparities facing its estate communities remains one of the brightest points in the industry, and represents an example which is worthy of emulation. “At the same time, we must acknowledge that despite all of the progress made, we continue to fight an uphill battle,” he noted.
To understand the current issues faced by these communities, Bulumulla noted that it is important to first understand the history and composition of the industry, and the structural limitations in extending social services to them. From a historical perspective, he shared that Sri Lanka’s plantation industry has evolved across three distinct eras. Having been established under colonisation in 1867, the estates were managed under colonial structures and management strategies for 105 years.
“Naturally, during this era, there was scant regard paid to worker and community welfare,” he observed.
Following Independence, the “agency house” model established under colonisation continued to run, before all plantations were taken over under the era of nationalisation in 1972, which lasted for 20 years, until in 1992, the estates were subsequently handed over under leases for management by private companies. Bulumulla noted: “Over the past 30 years since privatisation, the estates have evolved into their current modern structure.”
Today, he stated, the Sri Lankan tea industry primarily comprises tea smallholders, which account for 63% of land allocated for tea cultivation, and 62% of total production. Meanwhile, the RPCs account for 33% of land and 36% of production, while the State retains ownership in approximately 4% of tea lands, and accounts for just 2% of production.
Currently, Bulumulla explained, the RPC sector provides direct employment to a workforce of approximately 165,000 workers, out of a resident community that is in excess of 1 million, while smallholders have a workforce of approximately 400,000 out of a community of approximately 1.2 million, and the State sector is estimated to have a workforce of around 9,000 from a community of approximately 40,000.
“In order to have an effective and factually meaningful discussion about the issues connected to these communities, it is essential to first draw these distinctions, given that depending on which sector we focus on, there is drastic variation in standards of living, and the availability of formal systems for ensuring the wellbeing of the community at large – and in particular the wellbeing of women and children,” he emphasised.
What is the Mother and Child-Friendly Seal?
Introducing the Mother and Child-Friendly Seal for Responsible Business was The Centre Country Director Ahila Thillainathan, who brings in over 16 years of international development experience, having worked with UN agencies, INGOs, the private sector, and government entities.
Sharing the goal of the activity-based certification, Thillainathan explained that it is to establish a uniform, transparent, and rights-based framework to assess and communicate the mother and child-friendly practices implemented by upstream (plantation companies and estates) as well as downstream (exporters, brokers, and brands) businesses in the Sri Lanka tea supply chain.
The Seal Initiative is aimed to improve the wellbeing of women and children in Sri Lanka’s tea sector through strengthening commitment and capacity of business entities to create a family-friendly tea supply chain, in which children can enjoy their human rights, as well as encouraging business entities in the tea supply chain to make sustainable and meaningful investments in wellbeing initiatives targeting children and women in plantation communities. She also noted that it will enhance public-private partnerships between government agencies and business entities in the tea sector to improve the key service deliveries such as education, health, and social protection, and also creating added value and market differentiators for the Sri Lankan tea industry by demonstrating its transformation towards a family-friendly supply chain, thereby promoting the long-term sustainability of the tea industry.
Following this was a discussion featuring six distinguished speakers from the tea industry, Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, Save the Children, and The Centre, who exchanged thoughts on why the initiative is important, and responded to audience questions. Once the discussion ended, The Centre’s Child Rights Technical Advisor Shyamali Gnanasena took the stage to conclude the event, reiterating their goals and objectives with this launch.