Extractive companies have the potential to bring positive changes to children’s lives through their investments in the communities in which they operate as part of infrastructure- and social development including roads, water and sanitation, education, healthcare and by providing employment opportunities. On a wider scale, the tax revenue available to states when extractive companies pay their due taxes can significantly increase governments’ spending on public education, healthcare and other services for children.
However, the industry can have long lasting negative impacts on children who are more vulnerable than adults because of their continuous physical, social and emotional development. Often operating in remote and disadvantaged areas of the world, extractive companies can negatively impact the lives of children through their operations and supply chain.
The majority (70%) of oil and gas is produced onshore. This means that not only large-scale mining but also oil and gas operations are directly impacting the human rights of communities, including children. New technologies, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and drilling in shallow water, have been met with increasing concern over environmental degradation, impacting the lives of children in surrounding communities.
Approximately 90% of global oil reserves and 73% of production are controlled by state owned / national oil companies, which are increasingly partnering with international companies. Businesses partnering with national oil companies on extractive projects face the risk of association with human rights violations committed by national and private security forces, as well as with land rights violations.
While large-scale mining and the oil and gas industry have limited direct impact on children’s rights in the workplace, working conditions of parents and carers impact children’s rights indirectly – mostly through the potential negative impacts on family life of working hours, night shifts, long commutes and fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) arrangements. By not paying a living wage and providing adequate housing, companies may contribute to or further exacerbate child poverty and household stress. Sub-contractors might allow child labour in their supply chains, especially in countries where the minimum working age does not meet the ILO Minimum Age Convention.
Extractive companies will have very limited exposure to marketplace impacts as they do not sell or advertise their products or services directly to children.
Community and Environment
The industry’s direct impacts on children’s rights appear predominantly in the communities and the environment where children live. Firstly, through land-use and acquisition which may result in the resettlement of local communities; secondly, through environmental impacts from mining and drilling; and thirdly, through project-induced in-migration of labourers and economic migrants and their families.
When companies manage the potential impacts of resettlement and in-migration well, they can positively affect the lives of children by contributing to safe and healthy communities, where children have access to school, health care and other basic services, and where good income generating opportunities are created or exist for parents, carers and young adults. However, if these processes are not managed well, companies risk causing or contributing to children’s rights violations or being indirectly linked to these, including through forced resettlement, loss of land and family income, change in families’ socio-economic environment and the lack of community cohesion and protection systems. These impacts can include poverty, limited access to education and health care facilities, exposure to environmental hazards and pollution, child labour, spread of diseases and negative social pathologies, including substance addiction, and child sexual exploitation and abuse.
The Equator Principles and the International Finance Corporation's Performance Standards are the key international principles to ensure that large investment projects, including extractives, respect and engage the communities and the environment in which they operate. These standards include stakeholder engagement at all stages of projects to ensure that affected communities are consulted and given free, prior and informed consent before exploration and operations and that the local population is benefiting.
Children’s specific needs and vulnerabilities are not explicitly addressed in these guidelines. UNICEF has developed a stakeholder engagement tool Engaging Stakeholders on Children’s Rights, which offers guidance to companies on engaging stakeholders on children’s rights as part of enhancing their standards and practices at both the corporate and site levels.
For the mining (and wider extractive) industry in specific, UNICEF has developed the Child Rights and Mining Toolkit to assist mining companies in integrating child rights into their management systems, strategies and performance indicators. The Toolkit is aligned with and further builds on IFC performance standards and covers the following issues: (i) impact assessments, (ii) stakeholder engagement, (iii) the environment, (iv) security, (v) resettlement, (vi) in-migration, (vii) health and safety, (viii) working conditions, (ix) protecting children from sexual violence and lastly (x) social investment. For each issue, the individual tools outline the risk to business, the recommended strategies and actions that business should take, the existing international standards as well as case studies. The tool provides a clear overview of how to manage the impact, and how to best prevent and remediate potential negative impacts.