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Business and Peace

24. mai 2017 Av: Liv Tørres

As hundreds of business leaders gathered in Oslo for the Business for Peace conference last week, we had the pleasure of welcoming some of them here at the Nobel Peace Center. Among them, business leader and Peace Prize laureate Ouided Bouchamaoui. She is the leader of the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicraft; one of the four organizations which joined forces and took on the role of mediator when Tunisia stood on the brink of civil war in 2013.

Ouided Bouochamamoui visit the Nobel Peace Center 15 may. (Photo: Nobel Peace Center)

The Tunisian example shows how civil society can play a crucial role in creating and maintaining peace. But what does business have to do with peace, you might ask. Some people would argue that the responsibility of business is only to create profit. But while some would pinpoint the misdoings of the business sector in encouraging poverty-wages, undercutting labour standards or gaining massive profits out of corruption and conflict, this should simply be regarded as criminal activity rather than responsible business practices.

Because business has everything to do with peace and peace-building.

Firstly, business can contribute with funding and support to sustainable peace-building and developmengt programmes aimed to help communities more typically in their near surroundings. And this was indeed for many years the core of the corporate social responsibility strategy of many corporations: support to schools, orphanages, sports activities, clinics, art and/or local volunteer work in the neighbourhood of the business. As more and more of such social tasks were taken over by the state or municipalities, the social responsibility of the corporate sector was also modified.

Business first and foremost affects the likelihood of unrest and conflict by contributing to growth and welfare. And we know that growth and welfare are of major importance when it comes to conflict. Societies with growth, development and welfare are much less likely to experience conflict. And countries that end conflicts are much less likely to experience recurring conflicts if they have growth and development.

Furthermore, business has a major role to play in setting the standards and parameters for that development. When the ILO received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969, they stated in their acceptance speech: “as early as the 1830’s and the 1840’s, such humanitarian industrialists as Charles Hindley in England and Daniel Le Grand in France had proposed that coordinated action should be taken at an international level to regulate conditions of labour to ensure that no country which provided its workers with improved conditions would be at a competitive disadvantage in the international market.”

If growth is distributed fairly, there is less likelihood of conflict and tensions in society. If labour standards and human rights are respected, trust and dialogue are strengthened and the chances of tensions lower. We know that dialogue, negotiations, decent work and an attention to the wage gap contribute to harmony, trust and peace-building. According to the World Investment Report 2013, around 80 percent of global trade now flows through global value chains led by multinational corporations. The standards they set for wage levels, communication and negotiations with their employees as well as the respect they pay to human rights inside and outside their firms, will clearly have a huge impact on tensions and conflict in society.

Universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.

This quote is from the preamble to the ILO constitution. And with inequality becoming one of the main drivers of social unrest and conflict, the link between social justice and peace is also becoming clearer. Peace depends on social justice. And social justice depends on the parties in the labour market.

As Gro Harlem Brundtland said in her keynote address to business leaders last week in Oslo:

You have a big responsibility for the growing gap we currently experience internationally. Therefore, you also have a big responsibility for reducing that gap!

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