Business as an agent for peace

International Alert recently held a discussion in Karachi with members of the local business community on how business can contribute to building peace in Pakistan.The discussion was hosted by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry as a part of our continuing research for the Plural Business Partnerships for Peace in Pakistan (PBPP) project.The aim of PBPP is to understand and strengthen the capacities of business to contribute to peace in Pakistan. As part of the project, we work with businesses to understand how violence in Pakistan affects them and we encourage them to think creatively about how they can contribute to building peace in the country.The discussion, held on 11th August 2012, provided the following insights:

  • The poor law and order situation is one of the most critical issues faced by the business community in Pakistan, especially in Karachi. At times, this has resulted in extortion and ransom threats. In extreme cases it has forced businesses to relocate to other cities and countries. This makes it very difficult for businesses to invest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and other peacebuilding initiatives.
  • A number of external conflicts – mainly political, ethnic and religious in nature – are also threatening business in Pakistan. While businesses are able to deal with internal conflicts within their organisations, their hands are tied when it comes to external factors, which there are limited options for dealing with.
  • It will be difficult to carry out any meaningful peacebuilding in Pakistan without first recognising and addressing the external factors contributing to violence in the country. These include foreign intervention in national matters, the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and the foreign policies of external governments.
  • The prevailing instability in Pakistan has adversely affected the business community and it is therefore in their interest to work towards peace. The business community is very keen to actively participate in any thoughtful effort towards peacebuilding in the country.
  • The corporate and business sector in Pakistan is very philanthropic and generously supports charitable activities in the country. However, the understanding and definition of CSR is limited to “corporate philanthropy”. Additionally, the current unstable context makes it difficult for businesses to develop their CSR and other peacebuilding initiatives.

PBPP research like this provides substantive and unique knowledge on the risks and opportunities for business engagement in peacebuilding in Pakistan. Results from the research will be shared with a wider audience in Islamabad in November.Alert is joined on PBPP by the Responsible Business Initiative (RBI), the UN Global Compact Pakistan Local Network (UNGCPLN) and various academic and civil society organisations. The project is supported by the EU, which is interested in identifying new and innovative approaches for building peace in Pakistan.