This month, I am working on an academic article called "Connecting Peace to Profit." Because scholarship takes time to formulate and sift its way through the reviewers and revisions, I wanted to get some of the ideas out now. I do not think, especially in conflict work, we always have the luxury of waiting a year for good ideas to get to the world.
When lives are on the line and when families are threatened to be separated, it seems just another expression of privilege to hold back and wait. Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Annie Dillard's words resonate in this field--she encourages writers to write as if all their readers have a life-threatening illness. Don't hold back, she says! Say it all and say it fully.
In conflict and development work, this approach resonates. Whatever is being done to support those who choose peace is being done or not done on a moment by moment basis.
Why Talk About Business?
Most of the peace, conflict and development field tend to talk about how to work with governments, non-governmental organizations, victims, perpetrators, religious organizations and military groups.
Market actors, businesses large and small, are often not invited to the discussions. Their existence is sidelined or only talked about sideways, meaning we talk about economic prosperity as necessary for peace.
Corporations are often seen as obstructions to human rights. Large corporations seem constantly positioned as the man-eating plant in The Little Shop of Horrors--- entities that have an insatiable appetite for human flesh both in the form of employees and consumers.
Having worked for a decade in business, I agree that corporations have powerful engines that must be fed to survive. Their growth and survival demands so much intelligence, problem solving and relatedness. They are absorbed in their own existence. This does not mean that they cannot be agents of peace.
Corporations have a big stake in violent conflict. Most corporations do NOT profit during violence.
The Case of South Sudan
Let's briefly take the case of South Sudan. The Chinese National Petroleum Company had a 1/3 drop in oil production within just two weeks of violent conflict in Darfur. In 2014, Chinese Foreign Minister’s Wang Yi spoke out against the violence and sent 100 soldiers to the UN Peacekeeping mission.
Mining and other extraction companies experience looting, the withdrawal of international investment, and have a traumatized workforce after violence. This is terrible for business.
To assume that business interests do not align with peace might simply be part of the field's leftist distrust of capitalism and industry.
My fear is that peace, conflict, and development work will become too attached to being the solution, rather than committed to working with who or whatever can help support thriving communities.
Not Talking to Corporations Because We Do Not Know How
I also suspect that corporations and market actors are not invited to discussions on conflict in part because conflict-experts simply do not know how to talk to corporate actors. They do speak a different language. Just because corporations speak in terms of profit and losses does not mean that balance sheets cannot calculate the impact of violence.
My upcoming article will go into much greater depth on this subject. This blog is simply a nudge to those working in development to pick up the phone or send an email to companies in the conflict zones in which they work. You might be surprised how willing they are to support your efforts, not just through financial contributions, but as integrated members of the community.
Desmund Tutu: We Cannot Afford to Ignore Market Actors
Not engaging businesses can even upend all the hard work of peacebuilders.
Tutu said that undressed economic factors are "powder kegs" that will blow up any peace acquired.
For any peace to be more than an absence of violence businesses must be included in the conversation.
Businesses for Prosperity in Chicago!
If Michigan Avenue wants its holiday shoppers, those businesses will need to be part of the solution -- hiring, educating, and supporting black youth. It will not be enough to end protests. They must help the city recognize that black lives really matter.
Those working in Chicago would be wise to invite Chicago businesses into the discussions.