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Calls for businesses or the private sector to be included in conflict prevention and peacebuilding remain very much on the margins of United Nations (UN) discourse and have yet to penetrate the narrower, more political and politicised – and, indeed, practical – realm of peace mediation. This blog explores the steps required to enable the UN peace and security architecture to engage more meaningfully with business actors in countries in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.
The role of business actors has made front-page news in recent weeks following the Russia-led invasion of Ukraine. There has been elaborate discussions on whether Russia-based businesses should stay or go, with majors from the aviation, automobile, tech, energy, finance and consulting sectors pulling out; the UK, the EU and the US have imposed far-reaching financial and economic sanctions on oligarchs, businesses, investments and trade, calling them “unprecedented”; and, many CEOs have lamented the suffering in Ukraine and many have come together to advocate for peace.
These events have underscored the fact that business actors have the potential to play an important role in conflict management, and the majority have an interest in peace. And yet, engaging with business actors in peace, security and stability is an under-explored area for the international community as a whole, and for the UN in particular. The lack of engagement with business actors is not only a missed opportunity but may be actively undermining prospects for sustainable peace.
Key stakeholders engaged in UN Peace Operations, regardless of whether they sit in HQ or in the field, tend to exhibit a blind-spot when it comes to business actors – irrespective of whether the business actor in question is public/private, licit/illicit, formal/informal, local/international. Consequently, whether business actors play negative or positive roles with regards to peace, they are not taken into consideration, leveraged, marginalised, engaged or supported appropriately in the prevention of conflict and the pursuit of peace.
For example: whilst the discourse on inclusion – which ‘took off’ following UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security in 2000 but has been applied to other actors – is based on the recognition that all ‘relevant’ actors must be included in efforts to foster sustainable political settlements, this has not translated into the inclusion of business actors in the mandates, policies or practices of the UN Peace Operations.
The imperative to ‘include’ civil society actors, women, youth, spoilers, non-state armed groups (NSAGs) and, in some circumstances, terrorist groups, has given rise to a plethora of policy guidance and an ‘industry’ of non-UN peace-related actors on hand to provide support to reach these objectives. And, even if such engagement remains challenging, problematic and, in some cases, superficial in nature, the aspiration is there: recognised, acknowledged, codified, a work in progress.
Business actors, on the other hand, do not feature in the discourse on inclusion. There are no academic articles linking the inclusion of business actors to the sustainability of peace agreements; there are no protocols, conventions or declarations that advocate as such; there are no Security Council resolutions on business, peace and security1; no Oslo forums dedicated to the topic; no UN guidance notes or internal briefings or protocols, no UN Staff college trainings or leaders advocating for business actors to be ‘included’ in any peace-related processes.
Interestingly, the business case for peace is relatively strong: there are diverse frameworks, policy guidelines and trainings that seek to support the notion that business actors operating in countries in conflict should not only ‘do no harm’ and, where possible, also ‘do good’. The peace case for business, however, is comparatively weak and has yet to translate into any meaningful change on the ground.
As a result, whilst business actors are increasingly expected to incorporate ‘peace’ into their operations (albeit with varying degrees of success), actors from the peace and security architecture are not required to incorporate business actors into theirs – even though business actors may be actively hampering, or may be well positioned to ameliorate, the achievement of peace-related mandates2.
Indeed, while the normative framework for business and human rights is relatively comprehensive – including the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – which focus on the responsibilities of business in conflict-affected regions – the absence of business actors from the work of the peace and security architecture is both glaring, and a huge missed opportunity for peace.
It is becoming increasingly urgent to put these ideas into practice following a simple set of action lines: