The event ‘Enhancing the Potential of Business for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Peace’, under the overarching theme ‘Conflict sensitive business and access to information as strategies for prevention of destructible conflict’, was organised by the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform (GPP). Diane Hendrick, Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) Representative for Peace and Disarmament, moderated the session and introduced the two speakers: Tessa de Ryck, Consultant with the Business and Peace Programme of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and Inga Petersen, Senior Extractives Advisor, with the Post-Conflict and Disasters Management Branch of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
De Ryck, who opened the session with her presentation on ‘Company-Community Conflict in Fragile and Conflict Affected Settings’, discussed causes of social conflict: primary causes (e.g. the pollution of rivers) and underlying causes (e.g. lack of control/agency in communities).
De Ryck mentioned how the peacebuilding mindset for companies is shifting from ‘do no harm’ to a more active/positive approach. Companies engaging with local communities is essential for peace and trust. Firms are putting money towards social investment or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives more and more often. However, de Ryck makes the argument that companies ‘cannot buy peace’ and must do more. One key factor in creating sustainable peace between companies and communities is meaningful engagement. Communication should be free flowing and consistent during the entire duration of a project.
An important concept to meaningful engagement is recognising the heterogeneity of communities and giving attention to different groups and interests within a given community. De Ryck continued her presentation by discussing preventative versus transformative practices that can be taken to build peace between companies and communities. Preventative measures being actions that can prevent conflict from arising at all.
De Ryck focused mainly on transformative measures like open and honest communication to establish trust moving forward and using third party mediators in conflict resolutions. Some challenges to peace facing companies are failure to recognise the costs of social conflict, lack of dedicated resources and knowledge, reliance on external consultants, and a corporate culture that does not support improvement and collaboration amongst departments. De Ryck laid out some steps to be taken to improve peace between companies and communities in the future: increased collaboration between stakeholders (especially NGOs and companies), a shift in corporate culture, and implementation of binding legal frameworks on national and international levels.
The session continued with a presentation from Petersen on ‘Mapping and Assessing the Performance of the Extract Industries’. The focus of the presentation was on fragile states, and Petersen explained that 70% of these states have resource extraction. She further explained that resource extraction often leads to conflict. She mentioned how 80% of social conflicts in mining are related to water.
Petersen’s overall question that she wished to address was how ‘improved access to and use of authoritative information in the extractive sector reduce conflict and fragility?’ An issue with this information on social and environmental impact of extraction is hard to obtain. Figures from Harvard University estimate that social conflicts cost $20 million per week in delays and issues. These conflicts stem from a lack of trust.
Credible information can help establish and build trust between communities and companies, however much data is often inaccessible, inconsistent, and/or biased. The UNEP project MAP-X is an online information and engagement platform for the extractives sector. It gathers data as well as authenticates it. Its themes are economic, social, and environmental. It looks at data on regional, national, and site levels of scale. It acts as a non-biased, third party to give information that communities and companies can use to better establish relations and trust. It provides other services like capacity building, policy support, and sustainability and scenario planning.
Hendrick thanked the two presenters for sharing and started the conversation between audience and panel by posing the question: How do you finance capacity building? The audience members and the three panelists further discussed how to achieve sustainable peace and resolve social conflicts.
by Marissa Wilkinson, DiploFoundation / Geneva Internet Platform