One year since its foundation, the UN Global Compact’s Business for Peace initiative is already achieving tangible results, writes Melissa Powell.
This has been a tough year from the perspective of those working for peace and stability, as world attention is consistently drawn to a variety of conflicts that are tearing apart countries and societies. While the primary responsibility for peace resides with governments, often overlooked is the role that business can play to prevent a strained situation from breaking down into a more serious conflict. In post-conflict areas, companies can also make significant contributions to bringing about a return to normalcy.
Companies have ingrained reasons to help advance peace, as business cannot thrive in societies that fail. Social strife and violent conflicts disrupt production, sales and investment. Based on the UN Global Compact’s flagship Global Corporate Sustainability Report 2013, we know that 70 percent of Global Compact companies are taking actions to advance UN goals and issues, including peace and security.
Businesses have the means as well. The innovation and economic development which companies bring to the table can be powerful agents of change. Their spin-off effects – jobs, availability of essential products and services, infrastructure development, basic needs provision – tend to support stability in difficult times.
The UN Global Compact, the premier outreach arm of the United Nations to business, is among a handful of organizations seeking to deepen and enhance this approach. Through our now year-old platform, Business for Peace (B4P), the Global Compact is building on over a decade of work in this area to bring companies, civil society organizations and other stakeholders together in complex environments around the world. In doing so, we have found that, indeed, there is a living tradition of “Business for Peace”.
Already 18 Global Compact Local Networks – clusters of participants who come together to advance the Global Compact and its principles – have committed to engage in learning, dialogue and collective action to advance peace in places ranging from Turkey and the Republic of Korea to Mexico and Uganda. These networks are becoming increasingly active hubs where companies and others can share experiences and focus on critical factors affecting each country. Participants in Colombia have launched an effort to engage with former combatants from armed groups and militia, with an emphasis on providing jobs, eliminating social stigma and on forgiveness. The Indonesian Local Network works to increase interfaith understanding both in the workplace and in the community.
These networks are being joined by individual companies seeking to move beyond risk mitigation to enhancing their positive contributions to peace. More than 120 companies and business associations have joined the platform, committing to pay heightened attention to implementing the UN Global Compact’s ten Principles in complex environments while also taking action individually or in collaboration with others to directly contribute to peace. Finally, these companies must also report on their progress annually.
Notably, this company participation sees some of the largest and most recognizable brands in the world operating alongside, and sometimes in cooperation with, small and medium-sized enterprises. Companies like ArcelorMittal and Maersk Drilling have worked to train local teams in community engagement and hold community dialogues that help ensure social investment programs address local priorities. Others, like Safaricom and Virtusa, have found innovative approaches to engaging with governments to benefit local communities and address human rights issues. Lessons from these efforts are being disseminated in core resources like the Guidance on Responsible Business in Conflict-Affected & High-Risk Areas: A Resource for Companies & Investors and the follow-up Responsible Business Advancing Peace.
The replication of practices like these can make a big difference in addressing armed conflicts in conjunction with issues like terrorism and poverty. Over time, B4P aims to demonstrate that while the private sector, governments and civil society have different responsibilities, they all have a shared interest in peace, stability and development. This will likely be reflected in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, where ‘peace and stability’ compose one of the 17 proposed goals.
Ultimately, while corporate sustainability has evolved into a more mainstream, strategic corporate practice, we are only at the initial stages of reaching the necessary critical mass and depth of action needed to adequately address the most fundamental of UN goals: peace.
Melissa Powell is Head of Business for Peace at the UN Global Compact.