Corporate Engagement for Conflict Transformation: Conceptualising the Business-Peace Interface

Economic issues have been key factors in many conflicts around the globe. Miall affirms that conflicts are inevitably influenced by economic and political forces. Lederach writes that such forces can interdependently contribute to conflict transformation. On occasions corporate actors can be seen to have played decisive roles, both triggering conflicts and transforming conflict. Hence, corporate actors may be both the boon and the bane for society. In this context, this paper discusses the relationship between corporate actors and conflict transformation with a special focus on Nepal.

The primary objective of this paper is to conceptualise the business-peace relationship. In addition, it also looks at the operational linkage between the corporate sector and conflict, and goes on to describe the trend and scope of corporate engagement for conflict transformation in Nepal, and analyses the contemporary situation. The analysis draws on secondary data from International Alert, National Business Initiative, labour unions, academic institutions, government agencies and business associations. The authors of this paper also undertook primary research which included around a dozen structured and unstructured interviews with labour unions and business associations and interviews with large businesses in Nepal including banks, hotels and manufacturing companies. The objective of these interviews was to explore the corporate sector’s perceptions of social engagement and their level of willingness to engage in this activity. In addition, the authors also conducted a questionnaire which focused on needs, interests, determination and limitations of these companies to be involved in peacebuilding activities. Respondents were selected from three sectors: production and manufacturing industry, tourism and hospitality industry, banking and finance industry.

  • The business-peace interface
The social engagement of the corporate sector has been a matter of debate for many years. Such engagement has the potential to promote both peace and conflict. For instance, several authors argue the positive effects of economic actors in conflict contexts. In contrast, authors have described how corporations have incited conflicts. Though economic actors have a crucial role in conflict transformation,Botes critiques the lack of attention to interdisciplinary perspectives by most transformationalists. While there is a substantial body of literature on the role of economic systems, there is less on the role of economic actors in change-making.
  • Analytical framework

Existing literature rarely talks about the role of business in conflict transformation. Azar Lederach and Rupesinghe discuss corporations in conflict transformation as only an adjunct character. Theories by Galtung and Väyrynen also fail to bring economic actors to the fore-front. Instead, they talk about the model of economic transformation. By contrast, figure 1 illustrates this paper’s analysis of the interrelation between aspects of transformation where corporations are the major actors.

The figure identifies five broad types of pro-peace engagement of corporate actors – social, humanitarian,philanthropic, economic and political. Such engagements should be conflict-sensitive so as to ensure that the corporate activities do not fuel conflict. These five types of engagement, together with conflict-sensitivity result in five aspects of conflict transformation focusing on – actors, issues, relationships, structures and culture transformation. Addressing the root causes of conflicts through such engagements helps to realise transformation thereby leading to peace, prosperity and economic stability.

*Published in Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security (JCTS) Vol. 2 | No. 1

© Copyright 2012 by CESRAN

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