Published 4 years ago.
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Image: United Nations
On the third and final day at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, it was clear all businesses are being asked to address a fourth ‘p’ — peace. As well as helping to prevent conflict, companies are increasingly taking responsibility for sustaining peace.
Courageous business leaders have stepped forward in the history of many
countries to bridge the divide of conflict, where politicians or diplomats have
In the modern era, Martin Naughton, who conducted cross-border business
during the worst years of the troubles in Northern Ireland; Murad
Al-Katib, whose agri-business has combined its sustainability efforts with
feeding millions of Syrian refugees; and Sarah Beydoun, who has built a
fashion business empowering disadvantaged women helping to combat instability in
Lebanon, have been amongst distinguished recipients of the Oslo Business
and Peace Prize — nominations for which in 2019 are currently open.
The UN Forum on Business and Human
heard current examples from Norwegian telco Telenor Group, describing
its role in overcoming conflict in Myanmar; and the Red
Colombia platform of 20 companies
prepared to speak out, to protect human rights defenders under threat in their
country’s fragile peace.
In my commentary from day
I highlighted how many companies are actively working to avert complicity with
human rights abuses by security forces in countries in conflict worldwide. But
the last day of the Forum featured a ‘Business for Peace’ strand, which goes
beyond corporate engagement in the 34 countries in a current state of conflict
in the world, to how companies can be ‘peace builders’ in what the Alert
report identifies as the further 83 countries where internal tensions require
conflict prevention or resolution.
Put together, this represents more than half of the world and over one billion
people directly affected; and calls for much broader business action than those
companies already committed to specialised initiatives, such as those on
or in the voluntary security principles.
Instead, this is a challenge to all businesses to positively contribute to the
building of peaceful societies — with companies bringing their skills, resources
and leadership to combat the social and economic inequalities that address the
root causes of conflict itself.
This is about respecting human rights, but doing so by promoting human security
— how risks and vulnerabilities affect individuals in the countries in which
As well as preventing conflict, it also sees companies taking responsibility for
on Liberia and Sierra Leone published this week by the research
organisation Swedwatch, on business impact in developing countries,
reinforce the finding that armed conflicts associated with natural resources are
up to twice as likely to relapse into conflict in the first five years after a
peace agreement has been signed.
This is a particular call to action for purpose-driven business. A special case
is in business committing to “transitional justice” — taking part in truth and
reconciliation efforts, which allow companies alongside other social actors to
acknowledge their own role in past conflict — as in Colombia — thereby helping
to embed the peace.
The Forum heard “Voices from the Ground” peace activists from there and other
Latin American countries, arguing that reparation should support collective
efforts to rebuild communities and not simply monetary compensation to
This is itself an interesting challenge back to UN-driven efforts towards
“access to remedy,” according to the UN Guiding Principles.
For readers whose company’s own impact on peace and conflict may seem far away
in their value chain, a starting point is in your own sustainability
Business and peace provides a classic opportunity to bring the human rights
agenda together with the SDGs, by assessing your own business contribution to
aimed at “peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.”
This year’s WBCSD Reporting Matters report showed only 38 percent of
companies reported on SDG 16, the third lowest amongst the SDGs in all business
In response to this challenge, the UN Global Compact, organisers of today’s
special session, have set up a specific Action
to oversee new indices for reporting SDG 16. It aims to help companies better
understand how they can apply the consequent SDG targets, including for reducing
violence, combatting illicit finance and strengthening relevant national
Companies I know from my work on integrated
are helping to spearhead these efforts — including Enel, Linklaters,
Sumitomo Chemical and Thomson Reuters.
In the sustainability movement, we have always talked about the three ‘p’s of
profit, people and planet.
This week, all businesses have been asked to address a fourth ‘p’ — peace.
Published Dec 2, 2019 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
Richard Howitt is a strategic adviser on Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Business and Human Rights. He is also a Board member, lecturer at Audencia Business School and host of the Frank Bold ‘Frankly Speaking’ responsible business podcast. Richard was Member of the European Parliament responsible for the EU’s first rules on corporate sustainability reporting and subsequently Chief Executive Officer of the International Integrated Reporting Council.