Peace through profit

Discussing CSR in PakistanInternational Alert recently took part in a public seminar in Islamabad, Pakistan on peacebuilding through corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The seminar looked at whether businesses are seen by the public as agents of peace or drivers of conflict in Pakistan, and built on our worldwide experiences of engaging with the private sector on peacebuilding.

The event was organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) as part of the new Plural Businesses Partnership for Peace (PBPP) project. PBPP aims at addressing the economic drivers of conflict in Pakistan by promoting more inclusive economic governance policies and conflict-sensitive business practices in the country, in an effort to ensure more equitable distribution of economic opportunities among the population.

Alert is joined on the PBPP by the Responsible Business Initiative (RBI), the UN Global Compact Pakistan Local Network (UNGCPLN) and various academic and civil society organisations.

The event was attended by government officials, policymakers and members of the private and non-profit sectors, and highlighted some important issues, including:

  • conflicts in Pakistan cannot be understood and addressed in isolation from regional and global events;
  • businesses and labour unions need to work together following international trade and labour mechanisms;
  • businesses need to regain public trust as socially responsible agents for peace – corporate philanthropy is not enough, as it may be seen as simply a marketing strategy to increase profit; and
  • society is justified in demanding that businesses contribute towards the wellbeing of people, since it is society from which the businesses derive their profit.

The seminar panel consisted of prominent members of political parties, labour unions, corporations, NGOs and the media. Among them was our Senior Programme Officer for Pakistan, Rabia Nusrat. Rabia shared Alert’s experience of working with the private sector in countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines. She cited examples of us working with and enabling local chambers of commerce, businesses and others to take part in peacebuilding work, including dialogue between conflict parties, rehabilitation of ex-combatants, conflict-sensitive CSR policies and increased cooperation among businesses.

Asad Umar, a former CEO of Engro Corporation and Senior Vice-President of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), reflected on how business policies can help prevent conflicts. However, he was of the view that, without a public-private partnership, little will be achieved. ‘Businesses must engage in and influence public policy’, said Asad. ‘It is good for businesses in the long run’. He cited disaster relief as another area where businesses can actively contribute to avert or mitigate conflicts by working in partnership with governments and NGOs.

Also speaking at the event was Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmad, Chairman of the Peoples Labour Bureau and former Member of the National Assembly, PPP. While he agreed with the potential of businesses to act as agents of peace, he argued that the reality in Pakistan was rather different: ‘Businesses are contributing more to the conflict than peace’. He cited issues of unfair labour policies, importing of cheap labour and the prioritisation of profit over social responsibility as key contributors to conflict. He felt that businesses on both sides of the border have an active role to play in addressing the India-Pakistan conflict by increasing trade.

Shafqat Munir, representative of Oxfam’s Asia Rights in Crisis, cited dairy businesses in Punjab as an example of good CSR, with the local population mobilised and empowered by its links with local businesses.

The seminar was held on 6th August 2012 in Islamabad, Pakistan and was moderated by Dr Vaqar Ahmed, Head of the Economic Growth Unit at SDPI. SDPI is an independent non-profit organisation which serves as a source of expertise on policy and programme analysis, advice and development in Pakistan.