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October 7, 2021

A study on the actual and potential impact of business on children’s rights in Kazakhstan

Photo courtesy of UNICEF Kazakhstan


A study on the actual and potential impact of business on children’s rights in Kazakhstan

William Philbrick & Leonora Borg


“The private sector has a critical role to play in helping to improve the lives of children around the world”. [1]

UNICEF’s Executive Director Henriette Fore recently highlighted the importance of all UNICEF Country Office Representatives spending 50% of their time engaging with the private sector (instead of the 90% of the time previously engaged with the government). This shift reflects UNICEF’s new “Business 4 Results” approach. Accordingly, many UNICEF offices have been commissioning research to identify and analyze how businesses impact children’s rights and to develop strategies that reflect how UNICEF can effectively engage with the business sector nationally and globally.


In 2020, UNICEF Kazakhstan commissioned A study on the actual and potential impact of business on children’s rights in Kazakhstan to analyse the current footprint of business on children’s lives in Kazakhstan and the potential of business to play a more significant role in advancing child rights, including through the integration of responsible business practices in core business activities. A unique aspect of this research included the fact that Kazakhstan had a formerly centralized economy (e.g., communist), and many of the major companies were still under some sort of government control.


A key success was the engagement of young people in the field research. Two FGDs took place – one with 16 and 17-year old college students and the other of 18 to 24-year-olds in work placements. We found out that the young people involved felt much more comfortable talking to the team online – they could turn their cameras on and off as they wanted and participate as and when worked for them during the 90-minute focus group discussions. The sessions were overseen by a teacher from their college and work placement supervisor. The young people said that businesses need to better engage with them, such as facilitating easier access into employment, including open days and apprenticeships. They raised concerns about oil and coal, environmental damage and irresponsible advertising; and the impact of COVID-19 on responsible business conduct. They believed that there is a strong need for the government to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). One young person stated: “If you don’t bring any benefits to society at least don’t bring any harm”.


The research with NGOs uncovered a shortage of goods and services for, particularly at-risk children. Businesses were not monitoring their impact (on children and society), nor engaging with NGOs. The NGOs questioned the willingness of businesses to engage in “Responsible Business Conduct (RBC)”, particularly in relation to children’s rights.  Yet, NGOs recognized the key role that businesses could play. They outlined a need for clear legislation and government motivation and stressed the importance of cross-sector partnerships.


Interviews also took place with SMEs operating in the agricultural, IT and online gaming, tourism, and cleaning product industries (key industries impacting young people in Kazakhstan). SMEs highlighted a need for clear legislation and government motivation and for cross-sector partnerships. They said that RBC should focus on the most vulnerable children but a real challenge was the lack of understanding of what RBC is. Most stakeholders in Kazakhstan think that RBC is simply donating money. Further, there was widespread concern about the impact of COVID-19 with RBC likely to be de-prioritized as SMEs struggle to survive. “When I hear the definition of ‘’corporate social responsibility’ it means nothing to me. In my opinion there is no such responsibility of business, especially in relation to children, in Kazakhstan, since this process is not systemic”


Larger businesses said that they believe most large national and multi-national businesses have RBC policies and practices that focus on the environment, gender, and/or diversity and ‘family friendly’ (employee well-being) policies and practices. However, there is not a complete understanding within Kazakhstan of what RBC is, many view it as ’social risk management’ and only a few have adopted a child rights lens.


The research uncovered several opportunities for engagement with businesses and the increase in recognition, implementation and monitoring, and evaluation of RBC. UNICEF Kazakhstan has already initiated RBC engagements, and there are several activities (by both UNICEF and other organizations) that can be leveraged and scaled up in the country to promote further and effective RBC. Through mobilizing the assets, innovations, influence, and capacity that businesses have to offer, UNICEF hopes to significantly accelerate and enhance the achievement of results for children.”[2] However, a key finding which was a surprise for the research team was the lack of brand recognition UNICEF had within the country. Public engagements with UNICEF did not necessarily carry the same value-added to Kazakh companies as it would in other countries.


The research team’s overarching recommendations to UNICEF for promoting RBC and shared value partnerships (SVPs) in Kazakhstan were:

1. Agree and promote one definition of RBC (a consensus with all relevant stakeholders)

2. Strengthen legal and policy frameworks (encouraging and promoting RBV and SVP)

3. Assess and support the impact of COVID-19 (e.g., access to education with computers)

4. Tap into existing business mechanisms and networks (i.e. American and British Chambers of Commerce) which have already established relationships (as a result of our Study, UNICEF Kazakhstan joined the American Chamber of Commerce)

5. Develop SVPs in specific priority areas (online games, digital technology, telecommunications, ECD, food and nutrition,  etc.)

6. Develop an awareness-raising campaign around RBC and the rights of children

7. Incorporate views of children

8. Support the development of social enterprises particularly in rural areas, around ECD, and private kindergartens, delivering and monitoring the training as a UNICEF franchise model.

9. Increase data collection on the impact of in specific business sectors, particularly around child labor

10. Reach larger companies through MoUs through trade unions and employee workshops.

11. Push for revising child labour laws and strengthen govt. enforcement mechanisms

12. Listen to children and young people – whose views should be central to the development of effective RBC policy and practice.



[1] UNICEF, UNICEF Strategic Plan, 2018 to 2021, page 30

[2] Terms of Reference, UNICEF-Maestral contract 2019