How business companies can impact peace-building and human rights in context of conflicts nowadays? What is the role of business companies in peace-building and what are the challenges?
The world has changed since the World War II and continuing to change rapidly. Armed conflicts have been replaced by civil unrests and revolts against corruption all over the world. Millions turned homeless, dead, displaced and economies of many countries damaged and economic opportunities wasted. In this new situation, when the primary institutions with peace and institution building mandates in conflict and post conflict environments, cannot cope with the scope and new face of the problem – NGOs and businesses should be given a specific role.
The major organisations to deal with the conflict and post-conflict rehabilitation are UN and OSCE with its relevant institutions. However, none of them address the issues of economic peace-building and its impact on human rights to the degree required and prefer not to see the role of economic issues in conflict resolutions.
The other very important and leading international actor is EU/EC with its strong economic programmes. However, its role in the post-conflict rehabilitation process is weak due to complicated bureaucratic procedures, poor institutional memory and limited field resources.
The World Bank dealing with economic issues is mainly preoccupied with macroeconomics and poverty eradication programmes and tends to deal with these issues on its own without consideration and coordination of its efforts with the UN, OSCE and EU/EC. Here comes the question: should these institutions consider restructuring of traditional institutional mandates and methodologies to address the needs of the changed world?
The one point that these institutions agree upon is that conflicts contribute to economic instability and increases poverty. However, more than that is needed in order to bring these institutions to an agreement that businesses can and should play an important role in peace-building process alongside with their efforts.
I wonder whether participants and guests of this Forum can share their views on how to achieve this and to increase the role of private sector in peace-building.
Thanks for posting this thread, Naiba Ahmadova. My daughter has been working and living in post-conflict environment for a long time and based on her experience I must confess that addressing economic issues in the context of peace-building and human rights programmes was always problematic. People working in these institutions usually look at the process of conflict rehabilitation from the prism of politics only, leaving economic issues and private sector as something not relevant to the mandate of the institutions they work for. This is wrong and needs to be changed.
I think, all these institutions need to have a strong economic dimension in all their field presences and not on an ad hoc basis. The second advice is to have strategies and programmes developed by these institutions for establishing, strengthening and improving the work with businesses operating in conflict and post-conflict areas.
The last but not least, it is important to improve the relationships of these institutions with the economic affairs departments of foreign embassies and representations in conflict and post-conflict areas.
I came across a useful piece of information that I want to share with the Forum mates. It has been reported in the bulletin of Business and Human Rights Resource Centre that on 13 October 2011 the International Council of Swedish Industry is planning a seminar dedicated to this issue. The seminar is about the impact of private sector on peace-building and challenges faced by companies operating in high-risk environments. The event will gather representatives from business sector, investors, academia, public sector, civil society.
In addition the organiser will launch a report called Private Sector in Peacebuilding which could be useful for the Forum mates.
The report can be requested from the coordinator Lisa Osback, email@example.com
I want to add to the points made by other Forum mates. I would like to emphasize here that those dealing with economic development programmes in post-conflict environments should bear in mind that businesses, in particular foreign direct investors, can either contribute to peace-building or be a source of conflict. Thus, there is a need for a proper impact assessment at early stages of designing of programmes.
I have recently finished reading a Practice Note 3: Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Conflict-affected contexts of International Alert and want to share some of its most important findings here.
It is well-known that FDI investors can typically offer greater financial resources than their local counterparts. FDI brings know-how and specialist expertise, contributes to large infrastructure projects that would not be feasible otherwise.
The risks associated with FDI in conflict- affected areas are very important to consider since the size of investments of this type is usually large and can either impact the situation in the country positively or negatively. Usually conflict-affected countries have poor standards of governance, accountability and responsibility. In this situation companies face the dilemma of how to behave and how far their responsibilities to protect human rights extend. For instance. companies can hardly avoid being associated with the way security forces of the project hosting country behave while providing security of their property and other interests. For instance, in Nigeria, Burma, Sudan, Colombia, Turkey there have been cases where foreign companies have been accused of complicity in human rights abuses committed by both private and government security forces.
Before businesses were less sensitive to the impact of their operations on local communities. However, this approach is changing nowadays. They agree to social and environmental impact assessments and there is a growing emphasis on human rights and conflict impact assessments.
I agree with the point made by Naiba Ahmadova and Pianist that all actors should work together and consider each others' views. For this to happen it is essential that substantial changes are made in the mandates and priorities of major peace-building organizations. The role of international and national NGOs, think tanks and media as watchdogs should be strengthened in peace-building, human rights and environmental areas.
In my opinion, a very important impact usually left without proper attention is the impact of business activities on local communities. They are typically the worst affected by business projects and too often the least consulted. The governments of the conflict affected countries frequently fail to engage them in any meaningful process of consultation. This results in violent backlashes and protests, such as blockage of roads, attacks and damages to company property, etc. I agree with the point made in the Note that despite of the fact that the government might not consider strategies for community engagement, it should not stop businesses from developing and implementing their own ones.
Companies can play a role in peace-building and even conflict resolution. Conflict minerals are used in mobile phones extensively; nearly everyone has one, yet there are few initiatives apart from so far the Conflict Minerals Bill in the USA.
Maybe I'm playing "devil's advocate", but perhaps unless there are strict international guidelines on the role of the private sector, the business risk of complicity e.g. the financial cost of lawsuits and reputational damage would be the main deterrent to companies operating in conflict regions?
Peace-building, unlike conflict prevention or peacekeeping, is incredibly comprehensive movement, involving all the sectors, and there is definitely a big role that private sectors can be involved. The problem, it seems to me, is the incentive for private sectors to be involved, and to cooperate with public sectors and international actors.
In the post-conflict situation or under or after an oppressive regime, where peace-building is normally most needed, private sectors will have a big risk, depending on what happens next. There is security instability and economic uncertainty. There is much more risk for employees’ safety, lack of security and insufficient guarantee for potential economic loss. However, there may be more opportunities for gaining a new market or new business opportunities for companies that go in to such situations.
How best can the private sector be encouraged to invest in unstable places? At the same time, how can they be regulated when local institutions are not functioning properly? In places where international organizations are leading or coordinating peace-building activities, can they be given a role in regulating private actors? But how can companies be bound by advice by international organizations? Via states?