Partnering for Peace: The Private Sector’s Role Post Conflict

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If the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are threatened by conflict, how can the private sector contribute to peacebuilding through how and where it does business?

SDG 16 presents a cross-cutting challenge and opportunity for any stakeholders driving delivery of the 2030 agenda for the world we want: peace, justice and strong institutions. While many companies prioritise work on the goals closest to their operations, SDG 16 risks neglect and jeopardising the progress on others. At the same time, no single organisation can deliver on SDG 16 alone.

The SDGs bring a renewed lens for peace building, which can involve high-risk, conflict-affected, post-conflict and sensitive regions and countries. As with all SDGs, the private sector has a role. Significant strategic commitments to humanitarian action by large companies are increasingly common. Some companies have formed practical humanitarian partnerships with UN agencies and NGOs that aim to leverage their expertise in war, disasters and post-conflict situations. Some businesses are highly adaptable in war or sensitive and at-risk areas, even deeply innovative.

How can the private sector contribute to prosperity, peacebuilding and security through how and where it does business?

Many organisations have worked on and convened stakeholders on this important theme. Building on this work, SustainAbility chaired a discussion at Chatham House with contributions from:

  • Glada Lahn, Senior Research Fellow, Environment and Resources, Chatham House
  • Harriet Lamb, CEO, International Alert
  • Jérôme Perez, Global Head of Sustainability, Nestlé Nespresso

This is what we heard.

First do no harm: Companies must ensure that they are not a root cause for conflict in the first place. The extractives industry has lessons in this area, with the exploitation of resources cited as a key factor for conflict.

It’s about purpose: For purpose-led organisations, it can be a strategic investment.

Aim for peace positive: On the spectrum from causing conflict to having some negative impacts to actively contributing to peace, there is guidance for business to avoid causing conflict, but little guidance on how to bring about peace.

Business builds: Not only infrastructure, but social and economic structures.

Partnership is essential: Companies must be engaged with governments and organisations. Peacebuilding is impossible alone. There are examples of companies and civil society advocating together for peace and security.

How can the private sector contribute to prosperity, peacebuilding and security through how and where it does business?

Conflict can return: Markets, economies and societies may be initially fragile post-conflict; expect that conflict may return. There are examples in Myanmar and South Sudan. Can aid and governments help lower the risks?

Influence and awareness matter: Understanding a company’s sphere of influence and biggest impacts is important (e.g. revenues to central governments can dwarf any local initiatives).

More people are being displaced: UNHCR reports a record 68.5 million forcibly displaced – that is one person every two seconds in 2017.

Climate and conflict: A company’s resource footprint and impact can have a role on climate change, the effects of which can start or exacerbate conflict and also prompt migration.

No business is exempt: Even ‘sustainable businesses’ (e.g. renewable energy producers) can be sensitive or exposed to conflict; land is at the heart of many conflicts.

Examples of bold companies working on peace are few, such as Nespresso in places like South Sudan and Colombia. Lush’s ‘Peace Massage Bar’ cocoa butter sources from a neutral community in Colombia, even through the worst years of conflict there.

While some guidance exists to support businesses in sensitive areas – see the SDG Fund’s Business and SDG 16: Contributing to peaceful, just and inclusive societies, the work of International Alert in specific country and company contexts, and the UN Global Compact’s Business for Peace network – there is more to explore. Stay tuned for more from us.

About the author

Denise Delaney
Denise Delaney

Denise is a Partner leading SustainAbility’s London team delivering sustainability strategy and engagement projects for leading organisations across sectors. She thrives on her work, travel, and reading and writing fiction.

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