Business and Peace

Project Overview

Many companies presume that constructive management of “externalities” will contribute to peace—through such practices as risk mitigation, conflict sensitivity, ‘shared value creation’, human rights promotion, corporate social responsibility, and a range of other corporate initiatives.  Yet to date there is little concrete evidence supporting this conclusion.  Much remains to be learned about what corporate practices are effective, not just in mitigating conflict-inducing business activities, but also in building peace.

As enthusiasm for the enhanced role of companies in advancing peace has grown, so too has confusion and questionable claims about what private sector actors can accomplish in conflict contexts.

This collaborative learning process was undertaken to develop a strong framework for analysis and action that will help companies move beyond risk management to exert positive impacts on the conflict contexts in which they work.  In consultation with peacebuilders and the private sector, CDA and its partners will conduct a series of case studies regarding business contributions to peace.  Stakeholders will engage in joint comparative analysis of the project case studies and provide feedback on preliminary findings, ensuring that findings and recommendations are realistic and grounded in experience.

Ultimately, the project will offer practical, evidence-based findings about how companies can play a proactive and constructive role in peacebuilding.

The Idea of Business and Peace: “Assuming the Can Opener”

Posted: February 15, 2017

Ben Miller argues that current discussions of private sector peacebuilding overlook almost entirely the practical problems that companies frequently experience as they try to avoid adverse social impacts. As negative impacts commonly generate or fuel conflict, their absence from the discussion raises fundamental questions about that discussion’s practical utility for companies and policy makers seeking to establish a role for companies in peace efforts.

There’s an old joke at the expense of economists:

An economist, a physicist, and an engineer are stranded on an island with a can of food and no can opener.

The engineer says, “let’s smash the can open with a rock”.

The physicist replies, “bad idea: that’s going to splatter the food onto the ground. Let’s light a fire. The expanding gases will force the can to pop open, and presto – a hot meal!

The economist says, “bad idea: the can will explode and the food will fly all over the place. Now, if we assume that we have a can opener….

Much of the current discussion about the role of private sector actors in peacebuilding “assumes the can opener”: it presents ‘solutions’ that are appealing on their face, but in fact do not relate to the problem at hand. Because of this, it offers relatively little that is of practical value to companies or policy makers who might be interested in peacebuilding by companies.

The discussion is disconnected from real-world concerns in two ways: [click here to continue reading on our blog]

Core Questions

What are the appropriate roles for the business sector in promoting peace, as a stakeholder and/or as an active party?

What are the parameters and definitions of “business for peace”?

How is it different from conflict sensitivity and risk management?

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