BUSINESS AS A STABILISING FORCE
We live in turbulent times. Although political unrest has been an intrinsic part of global development since the dawn of time, recent years have seen global security issues rise to the top of the political agenda. Conflict and instability hamper economic and social development and discourage investment. Business presence in fragile societies is not only key to economic growth
and development, it can also play an important stabilising role – before, during and after conflict. It is in turbulent times that business leadership is needed most.
Companies make a critical contribution to economic development, peace and stability by providing employment opportunities, expanding markets and providing revenue to local economies. They can set an example of sustainable business
practice. And they can provide direct financial help for various programs through strategic social investments.
While the primary responsibility for peace lies with governments, business has an important role to play in conflict-affected areas. The decisions a company makes - including investment and employment, relations with local communities, protection for local environments, or security arrangements – can either help a country to overcome conflict, or exacerbate the tensions that fuelled violence in the first place.
Many post-conflict areas have great potential for growth as they re-establish the rule of law and take other steps to boost business confidence, and are therefore promising investment destinations. It is important that investors do not simply avoid
investing in challenging regions, but seek to invest responsibly in ways that promote stability, peace, protection of human rights and long-term security in line with universal principles.
Operating in conflict-affected areas is clearly challenging and the stakes are high. Done the wrong way, business can cause conflict and instability even where they set out with the best of intentions. But when companies take steps to understand the complex issues associated with such contexts, they can minimize the potential for negative impact, ensure longterm sustainability of their business and play an important role in supporting development and peace.
EXPLORING THE ROLE OF BUSINESS
Perhaps the most promising development in the last 15 years lies with the ever stronger engagement of local actors on the ground, and their strengthened connection and collaboration. Global Compact Local Networks are increasingly becoming powerful hubs where companies and others can share experiences
and focus on the critical factors for each particular country.
Over the years, the Global Compact has held a series of policy dialogues and initiatives on these issues, and some of the highlights include:
RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS IN SUDAN
Following two years of raising awareness locally in Sudan, a Global Compact Local Network was launched in 2008. The launch brought together more than 150 senior representatives from business, the United Nations, government and civil society organisations. Among the participants were companies that had been under massive public scrutiny for their local activities.
To explore what “responsible” business in Sudan meant, and how companies could support peace, the Global Compact and the PRI set up a dialogue between stakeholder groups. Investors were invited to engage with companies operating in
An interesting outcome was that the investors’ perspectives shifted from simply considering divestments, to thinking about how they could use their leverage to promote responsible business. Getting directly involved with companies operating
in conflict-affected and high-risk areas gives investors access to information on operations and raises their awareness of how complex the local issues really are. In turn, this could contribute to developing mitigating policies and risk strategies.
GUIDANCE ON RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS
The work in Sudan grew into a larger project, and since 2009, the Global Compact together with the PRI has convened regular conversations between business, civil society and academia to develop the “Guidance on Responsible Business in Conflict- Affected and High-Risk Areas” (2010).
Notably, this was one of the first times companies from all over the world, including China and India, worked together with other stakeholders to find a common reference for “responsible” business practices in high-risk areas.
important in getting corporations to understand the particular challenges of operating in conflict zones. The Business for Peace Initiative is a very commendable outgrowth of that focused on conflict zones.
CONFLICT-AFFECTED AND HIGH-RISK AREAS
Conflict-affected and high-risk areas are often plagued by: human rights violations; presence of an illegitimate or unrepresentative government; lack of equal economic
and social opportunity; systematic discrimination; lack of political participation; and poor management of revenue, including from natural resources.
FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
Through a two-year pilot project, a group of companies and investors committed to test the practical relevance of the Guidance in several of the high-risk countries where they operated. The publication “Responsible Business Advancing Peace”
describes the outcomes of the project, and lays out a number of concrete examples of how companies, Global Compact Local Networks and investors have worked together to advance their positive impact.
THE BUSINESS FOR PEACE PLATFORM
Business for Peace (B4P) was launched in 2013, elevating the work of the Global Compact in this area and building on over 15 years of experience and consultations with Local Networks, companies, investors, UN bodies and civil society organisations. It is a forum where companies can learn, identify actions, discuss and share best practices with other companies in similar situations. Using the tools provided by B4P, corporations can better understand how they can take action to support peace in the areas of the world where they have existing operations, and before investing in high-risk areas.
130 participants ranging from large multinationals to small companies from 38 countries and all regions of the world have joined the platform so far.
Sources of instability vary significantly according to the local context and need to be handled in different ways. Local Networks in B4P are able to tailor to diverse needs, including for example, training programs to increase human capital, especially for ex-combatants and youth, providing basic needs like water, shelter and food, encouraging entrepreneurship and job creation, or supporting intercultural and inter-religious understanding – all of which can help to support peace.
Perhaps the most promising development is the fact that businesses are increasingly asking for more concrete tools from B4P and efforts are underway to develop improved metrics so companies can better measure their impact on peace. This increase in demand from both multinationals and local business is a testament to the impact of B4P, and shows how corporate attitudes towards local social issues are indeed changing.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE LOCALLY
Investors are increasingly realising that there are other option than simply divesting from companies in difficult operating environments. Today, more investors use their leverage to positively contribute to company conduct and reward companies that adopt best practices in the protection of human rights, social development and governance.
Stronger engagement of local actors on the ground is evident, and Global Compact Local Networks are becoming important centres for companies and other stakeholders to interact and share experiences within a specific country’s context.
Some Local Networks have convened multi-stakeholder dialogues to come up with better and more concrete solutions to local challenges that involve business as a partner.
B4P has spearheaded countless local and global initiatives, and the issue of business’ role in peace is identified as one of the top five areas where corporate sustainability can really make a difference, according to Forbes Magazine. By learning from each other, companies and investors alike are becoming more aware of their role in providing local communities with a safer, more stable future.
adopted it and shared it with the companies we have been working with on these issues. That is a powerful example of how these resources really matter and how the Global Compact helps others to act.
BUSINESS FOR PEACE IN PRACTICE
The Colombian Local Network works with government agencies like the Colombian Agency for Reintegration and others to increase business leaders’ sensitivity to and engagement with ex-FARC combatants in Colombia’s insurgency. Ex-combatants are encouraged to find productive civilian roles through workshops and visits to business centres. When these efforts result in job placements, it provides them with a solid foundation to lead normal lives. The initiative is coordinated with the overall national development strategy of Colombia.