Op-Ed: UN Global Compact Business for Peace: New Heft for Private Sector ‘Development’

John Paluszek interviewing Mark Moody-Stuart for Business In Society program on UN Global Compact's Business For Peace platform.
John Paluszek interviewing Mark Moody-Stuart for Business In Society program on UN Global Compact’s Business For Peace platform.

By John Paluszek

“So, we’re not talking about ‘philanthropy’?” — Interviewer.

“Absolutely no. I am not talking about ‘philanthropy’ at all.” — Sir Mark Moody-Stuart.

Moody-Stuart was talking — authoritatively and convincingly – about the business case for the fast-growing number of private sector commitments in international development. And especially about those commitments now being implemented by many companies active in the United Nations Global Compact’s new Business for Peace (B4P) platform.

During the interview, recorded for the “Business In Society” television program produced in keeping with the May 15 Oslo Business For Peace Summit & Award Ceremony, Moody-Stuart shared the insights of his long and distinguished career at the highest levels of international business and society. He now serves as Vice Chair of the U.N. Global Compact Board as well as Chair of the Business for Peace Steering Committee. Many more of those insights are presented in his newly-published book, “Responsible Leadership: Lessons from the Front Line of Sustainability and Ethics.”

The news inherent in the eight-month-old Global Compact Business For Peace program is that it brings substantial “heft” and a new degree of coordination to private sector initiatives in international development. The program will bring new resources to such development’s fundamental objective: addressing the basic needs and desires of people for a higher standard of living and a better quality of life — leading to more stable, secure societies wherein conflict is less likely.

As described during the program by Ms. Melissa Powell, U.N. Global Compact head of Business For Peace, the Global Compact is fast energizing its 100 multi-sector networks around the world in applying partnering principles to the Business For Peace development mission. Some 17 Global Compact Local Networks and 100 companies spanning 29 countries are already engaging in robust programs to address many root causes of conflict.

From Asia to South America

Recent reports from these networks are indicative of the ambitious but grounded-in-reality work in which companies are often coordinating with civil society organizations and governments. Here are excerpts from two of many reports:

In Indonesia, the Business for Peace network’s mission is “to facilitate interfaith dialogues, to conduct training and best practice sharing and to encourage the multi-stakeholders collaborative actions.” In addition to reporting on its wide-ranging water management initiative, the network has described its seminal effort in building interfaith understanding and cooperation: “The interfaith dialogue is very important in a pluralistic society like Indonesia… [It] is needed to create inclusive community and reduce social prejudice on both sides… It should be followed by concrete actions. A business can play important roles to address these challenges.”

The Indonesia network manifests a related sentiment offered by Ali Nasr, Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies: “…There is a vital unseen rising force in the Islamic world – a new business-minded middle class that is building a vibrant new Muslim economy … their distinct blending of Islam and capitalism is the key to bringing lasting reform and to defeating fundamentalism. They are people the West can and must do business with.”

In Colombia, according to Ms. Powell: “One of the exciting things that has happened recently has been in our Colombia network where they have identified the reintegration of ex-combatants as a critical issue. The stigma of ex-combatants in society has been a real problem, so they have engaged the business community in helping to re-integrate them into the workforce to make it less likely that they’re incentivized to go back to fighting … And so they’ve realized that some of the skills and techniques that the private sector uses in its workforce, just the things they do as part of being a good business, are the skills that can translate into building better relations between communities.”

The three “must haves”

Business for Peace represents a potential “societal win-win on steroids.” However, its success is based on three common-sense pre-requisites:

  • Readiness to partner: Moody-Stuart: “…The key to the U.N. Global Compact [and “B4P”] is the founding principles that it wasn’t just business; it would be civil society and labor unions and so on, to bring them to sit down with…sometimes severe critics. And get them in the same room, talking and realizing that its back to the common objective…You may have one way, I may have one way and then we sit down to discuss whose way is better.”
  • Transparency: Companies know of the current public expectations for increased transparency. In international development, special demands are now being placed on extractive industries in developing countries with authoritarian regimes. Again, Moody-Stuart: “Those of us who have operated in global businesses know that many countries we work in don’t have perfect governance structures. Sometimes there are high levels of corruption… The bigger challenge is what happens to payments whether properly spent or in the worst case stolen… The payments should be monitored on both sides and audited independently. Those countries have to agree to establish an independent body with civil society and business … with guaranteed ability to criticize the government.”
  • Patience and perseverance: B4P participants — and all international development leaders — are, of course, not naïve. They understand that accomplishing fundamental societal change can be daunting. The decades, and in some cases the centuries, of causes of conflicts based on ethnic, racial and ideological confrontations; territorial disputes; and other human vagaries do not bend easily to, as Harvard professor Steven Pinker has put it, “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” Nevertheless, the formidable development resources of the international private sector are now being increasingly marshalled to the task — with a powerful business case integrated with a renewed awareness of corporate social responsibility.

Inevitably, there will be skeptics proclaiming: “The sheer complexity, frequency and history of human conflict”; and “the traditional primacy of corporate shareholder financial interests.” To these we offer profound voices of hope:

Steven Pinker: “Believe it or not … violence has declined over long stretches of time and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence.”

The late socialist Michael Harrington: “Capitalism’s most daunting characteristic is its ability to co-opt the reforms, even the radical changes, of the opponents of the system.”

John Paluszek is executive producer of Business in Society @BiZ_In_Society, BusinessInSociety.net and senior counsel at Ketchum in New York City. He is the author of seminal books on corporate social responsibility/sustainable development: “Organizing For Corporate Social Responsibility” and “Will The Corporation Survive?”.

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