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Business Recorder

Published Date: Dec 5, 2012


Businesses are an integral part of the communities they operate in. They affect (and are affected by) the communities around them. While the debate is moving forward vis-à-vis CSR and the triple-bottom-line phenomenon; policy researchers are now looking at the private sector’s role in preventing and mitigating conflicts in their communities.

Recognising the impact businesses are having on their communities is a start, as some businesses might inadvertently be causing or sustaining conflict. An ongoing research conducted jointly by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute Islamabad, International Alert and Responsible Business Initiative is looking at the role of businesses in Pakistan with regard to conflicts prevailing in the country.

Key objectives of the tri-partite study are to identify the economic drivers of conflicts, dig into the roles of formal & informal institutions in maintaining conflicts, and to explore peace-conducive business practices.

While the detailed report will be released in a month’s time, the study’s preliminary findings – based on a dozen key informant interviews, focus group discussions in Islamabad and Karachi, and extensive household surveys – give a fair idea of businesses’ role in building peaceful economies.

The researchers note that while businesses do sometimes lead to conflict; there are ways to have a peace-conducive environment mutually beneficial for businesses and communities. The key informant interviews smack of a political economy in local conflicts in Pakistan, as businesses sometimes collude with local influence groups to further enhance their business interests at the perils of their communities.

In the survey research across 800 households in the districts of Faisalabad, Karachi, Multan, Peshawar, Quetta and Sukkur, respondents deemed lack of social services (55 percent), and high cost of living (45 percent) to be the main issues affecting society. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents attributed unemployment and lack of social services to lead to internal conflicts.

Roughly 56 percent agreed that businesses had a role in developing local areas. Over 70 percent of the respondents reported cases where businesses were undertaking community development in some way. Almost 63 percent agreed that business expansion would be beneficial for the communities.

“This research is an effort to bring out evidence-based knowledge to advocate for peace-conducive economic reforms and an institutional framework for the private sector in Pakistan,” the researchers hoped. To take the agenda forward, a research workshop on ‘Plural business partnerships for peace in Pakistan’ was also organised by the three organisations in Islamabad, early this week.

It’s a good discussion to have. But more business perspective should be part of it, because many in the private sector seem vexed that they are expected to do more for communities at a time when businesses are hemorrhaging on many fronts, including energy crisis, law and order collapse, and deteriorating macroeconomics. The prevailing status quo, they say, constrains their ability to think beyond business.

Without revival of economic growth and jobs-creation, there is no start. That’s where the government comes in. Besides that, it would be naïve to ignore the critical role of good governance and public service delivery in maintaining peace and harmony, both within and among communities.