Transnational corporations in conflict prone zones: Public policy responses and a framework for action

Private sector activity – including both licit and illicit trade and business – is a significant factor influencing the shape and intensity of many conflicts. This report focuses on one group of private sector actors that plays a major role in many conflicts – Northern-based transnational corporations (TNCs) that are foreign to the conflict context.

The focus on this group is not intended to suggest that such corporations have a more significant impact on conflict than other types of actor, but is chosen because there appear to be clear opportunities to influence its behaviour. This includes through exploring options for public policy actors in the North to help catalyse a new approach.

With a few significant exceptions, however, there has to date been little effort (from public, private and civil society sectors alike) to engage different types of private sector actor systematically in conflict prevention. The basic thesis of the report ‘Transnational Corporations in Conflict Prone Zones: Public Policy Responses and a Framework for Action’ is that conflict-sensitive business, and its promotion by public policy-making institutions, could become an important part of a collective and multi-actored effort to create a more peaceful world. Public policy attention to harnessing this potential is urgently required.

TNCs have over the last decade begun to pay attention to human rights, the environment and other areas of ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR), but typically their understanding of conflict and corporate–conflict dynamics remains under-formulated, and constrained by a lack of skills and experience.

For their part, ‘home’ governments (of countries where TNCs are listed or based), international financial institutions (IFIs) and multilateral organisations, while moving towards increased partnership with TNCs and other private sector actors across a range of policy areas and public life, have yet to explore possibilities for engaging companies to meet their policy targets in conflictprone zones.

Yet, in many countries around the world (Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Sudan, to name a few), TNCs continue to exacerbate conflict, at the cost of local populations’ security and prosperity, international stability, and both company and home government reputations.