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In the ‘Business and Peace’ section of The Future-needs-Peacebuilding Blog, three contributors took a closer look at China’s growing influence in private sector investment in fragile and conflict affected countries. FriEnt team members Caroline Kruckow and Sylvia Servaes bring in their FriEnt perspective.
When FriEnt was founded in the early 2000s, a thorough discussion had emerged around the “economies of violence”. Today, twenty years later, the debate focusses on “business and peace”. Does this change in terms represent a shift towards strengthening peacebuilding? Unfortunately, not. Rather, business activities like job creation often seem to be expected to bring about peace automatically. However, there exists no simple link between any development sector – including business – and peacebuilding. Instead, conflict sensitivity is key in order to generate a peacebuilding effect. The integration of conflict sensitivity was hence a particularly important focus of FriEnt’s series of activities with regard to the topic of “business and peace”. Making local experiences available on a regional or national level, the importance of local understandings, cultural and spiritual dimensions of “assets” like land and the role of governance were further topics.
One issue that has increasingly been addressed in FriEnt’s discussions and which has not yet found sufficient attention is the role of underlying economic models. In what way do they have to be taken into account in order to understand and address root causes of violent conflict? Are there viable alternatives to the current economic systems that make economic development and business activities more peace oriented?
In particular with the implementation of China's global mega projects, the importance of these questions becomes increasingly clear: Does one economic model have more peace potential than another? How do businesses have to be set up and act in order to have a positive impact on peace? What frameworks are needed? Are national and international conflict sensitivity and human rights mechanisms sufficient to ensure peacebuilding effects of business activities?
From the three 'Future needs Peacebuilding blog' contributions on China, it became clear that Chinese corporates oftentimes fail to take into account local conflicts or conflict potential of Chinese economic interventions; offer moderation as an accompanying measure; or set up regulations in order to ensure compliance with international standards.. All this sounds somehow familiar. In all three blog articles, the Chinese approach does not seem to be very different from Western investments: profit oriented and not very “people or livelihood oriented”, even where there are efforts to comply with standards. Peacebuilding however, would imply to address the root causes of (violent) conflict. This entails equitable access to resources, their just distribution and sustainable use. It presupposes a much different economic model than what we see in Europe, the US or, for that matter, in China.
FriEnt, together with its members and partner organisations, will maintain the “business and peace” topic on its agenda. A next step will be a focus on the relationship between land, resources and economy. Looking more closely at the underlying economic models will allow for peace orientation to be an integral part of this process. At the same time FriEnt will connect to relevant international processes like the work of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights on heightened due diligence and consideration of conflict situations.
Moreover, discussions are under way to hold businesses responsible for harm done to the environment and livelihoods through their interventions, FriEnt and its member organisations are involved in this debate. To what extend these initiatives can help to develop a transformative potential or in what way other models have to be developed will be part of the discussion that FriEnt will facilitate.
– All welcome to get involved!
Read: An alternative to Western peacebuilding? - China’s ‘constructive involvement’ in Afghanistan (by Pascal Abb & Robert Swaine)
Read: Business Deals before Sustainable Peace - China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Myanmar (by Jason Tower)
Read: A tale of patience and perseverance - How civil society can engage with Chinese mining companies to improve human security and conflict resolution in the Democratic Republic of Congo (by Mark van Dorp and Christian Bwenda)