Sustainable brands don’t stop at the environment
Last week I had the pleasure of taking part in a panel event at Copenhagen’s Sustainable Brands event to talk with industry peers about how companies can help interrupt and end the demand for commercial child sexual exploitation. This included discussions around both sex trafficking and child sexual abuse.
Part of this opportunity was to showcase how companies such as Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group and Ericsson, both part of the panel, are championing programmes to tackle these issues. It was also an opportunity for us to communicate to industry executives the importance of collaborating on these issues and why they must feature in their wider CSR initiatives. During my time at the event, I was particularly conscious that while typically many companies focus on, and have policies for, issues around the environment and child labour, other issues like child sexual exploitation aren’t getting the attention they deserve.
Yet, this kind of exploitation is happening at all levels of society today. In fact in the last two years there was an incident where a Swedish government authority found illicit imagery on a USB stick being used by an employee on a company computer. When the police did an office and a home search they seized all devices being used by the perpetrator and uncovered new material and evidence of serious abuse. It materialized that the children displayed in the newly produced material were the suspect’s step children who were subsequently rescued, with the perpetrator being prosecuted. This was only possible through collaboration with law enforcement and incidents like this demonstrate that there is a huge opportunity and need for companies to enhance and develop their business practices to counteract this problem. In fact, the UN’s global sustainability goals (5.3 & 16.2) place increasing emphasis on companies actually acting on this issue.
Collaboration is crucial
For NetClean, our role in this, is providing solutions that can be used to detect, report and where appropriate block child abuse imagery and content online. Part of our collaborative efforts are demonstrated in our tools being used worldwide by multinational companies, government agencies and Internet Service Providers.
This type of collaboration is particularly pertinent to the ideas and discussions we had at the event and it was great to hear my peers echoing the same sentiments. In particular, that child sexual abuse, whether that’s trafficking or online exploitation, is a complex problem.
Anders Lisborg, Senior Advisor at the Danish Center Against Human Trafficking commented, “To be able to deal with this problem we need everything from governmental frameworks and legislations to industry contribution where the industry can implement efficient solutions to detect and block child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in order to support law enforcement agencies and interrupt the commercial demand.”
As well as recognising the importance of these initiatives from a sustainability perspective, it’s also important to remember that many employees are proud to work for companies who are acting on these pertinent issues. In fact, both Camilla Goldbeck-Löwe, Corporate Responsibility Expert at Ericsson AB, and Inge Huijbrechts, VP Responsible Business at Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group acknowledged the positive feedback they got from employees when asked how their company’s stance was received. People felt proud that their firms were taking a stance and exploring initiatives to drive change.
Hurdles in tackling the root cause
Overall, the major hurdles we have to overcome today are that companies still don’t understand that if they don’t have measurements in place to detect CSAM on their network and assets, they’re opening themselves up to major risk.
We would all like to think that there are no people involved in trafficking and child sexual abuse, especially not during business hours or using company assets, but sadly that is not the case. Brand damage, legal costs of investigations, loss of business, negative press, and staff counselling should all be enough motivation to prevent this crime but typically businesses do not have the efficient processes and tools in place to track and prevent this behaviour.
While companies might have processes in place to manage other problems that can been seen in society, such as alcoholism, drugs and even mental illness, there is a lack of knowledge around CSA. Just like alcoholism or drug use, perpetrators of child sexual exploitation often have an addiction, and that encourages them to view and distribute child sexual abuse material in the work using business networks, and business assets. Their moral barriers are low and they take risks. Just like there are company policies to handle problems with alcohol and drugs, there must also be policies on how to handle these criminal acts.
Turning the tide on policy
For all companies keen to engage in this bid for greater protection, it’s paramount that they revisit their existing policies. For example, do you have an IT policy that regulates network activity? Or perhaps a code of conduct that would deter explicit behaviour? With policies and code of conduct in place, it’s important to implement efficient tools to enforce that policy. Web filters are common-place, but they are not enough to catch and prevent the distribution of CSA material because of the evolving consumer behaviours and modes of distribution. Instead other tools and technical solutions are needed to turn policy documents from paper work into tangible actions.