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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Dec 4, 2012


Business can help resolve conflicts in a community through corporate social responsibility (CSR) measures that address the social and economic needs of communities. This was the consensus among speakers at a workshop on Monday about the role of CSR in peace building.

The workshop, titled “Plural Business Partnerships for Peace: Perspectives from Pakistan”, was jointly organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Responsible Business Initiative (RBI) and International Alert (IA) in collaboration with the European Union.

Participants cited that over 35 per cent of respondents in a survey about CSR said that the lack of economic opportunities, social and health services, energy and social deprivation are the most pressing factors contributing to conflicts in Pakistan.

Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) Chairman Muhammad Ali emphasised the need for factors such as CSR, good corporate governance, and a culture of mediation to minimise conflicts. “When businesses start investing in social infrastructure, their impact on the communities can be transformational.” He also informed participants that the SECP has drafted guidelines for public companies to perform CSR activities. These guidelines seek to institutionalise and codify CSR activities based on fair, transparent and responsible business practices to support community growth, he added.

Commonwealth Secretariat Strategic Planning and Evaluation Division Director Nabeel Goheer showcased their work in Pakistan, which focuses on building a peaceful and democratic society by appreciating cultural diversity. IA Program Director Phillip Edward Vernon briefed participants on various initiatives his organisation has taken to help in peace building in Pakistan over the last couple of years.

During a session on “Communities Perspective”, Naseer Memon, CEO of the Strengthening Participatory Organisation, lamented that corporations and multinational companies ignore local communities while hiring.

Citing the UNDP Human Development Report, he said that despite producing natural gas for decades, Dera Bugti is still the poorest, underdeveloped and marginalised part of the country. Safwan Aziz from SDPI presented findings from a study and shared that most community members in their survey asked businesses to contribute to community development through the provision of education, health, and economic opportunities. “Over 50% of the respondents believe that businesses should take care of local development,” he remarked.

He informed that there is no regulation for CSR in Pakistan and urged businesses to adopt a framework for CSR which can make their contribution to society interrelated with their own systems.

Damon Bristow, the Conflict Reduction team leader at Department for International Development (DFID) Pakistan, said that businesses’ role in development initiatives must be supported and appreciated, while reminding that these addressing theseissues is still primarily the responsibility of the government.

Khalid Aziz Mirza, former Competition Commission of Pakistan chairman, said that besides CSR, the businesses must comply with the law of the land in letter and spirit while adhering to accepted corporate governance norms and respect all stakeholders’ rights.

PTI Vice President Asad Umar, who was formerly president of Engro Corporation, identified a lack of economic opportunities as the cause of most of conflicts in Pakistan and urged the government to create jobs, spending royalties on communities and improving social capital. He said that businesses need to influence the government agenda to move towards sustainable growth, adding that the media and communities are vital partners for such advocacy.

Talking on the governance dimension, former Privatisation minister Altaf Saleem argued that due to lack of accountability, businesses tend to indulge in criminal business practices for huge dividends and mostly get away with it. He urged reforms in the government system through which honest businesses that positively contribute toward the welfare of the people and help create peaceful societies are justly rewarded.