Why bother with sustainability if companies fail to consider Sustainable Development Goal 16?

The future of sustainability is focused around the new global Sustainable Development Goals launched in September 2015. Momentously, Goal 16 calls governments, business and civil society to:

“Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

Without peaceful, inclusive societies, sustainable development has no ‘enabling environment’. Yet, discussion of ‘peace and stability’ with many corporate representatives is often received with a quiet, “not really our responsibility” or “we don’t oTGG_Icon_Color_18perate in conflict zones”. But as part of a community, or part of a social ‘system’, business can work with other actors to support their peace efforts. Business contributions to peace are crucial for conflict-affected countries, as well as countries not seen as
‘conflict zones’ but which experience instability and low-level violence. Indeed business support for peace is important in all countries, and can include for example, supporting measures aimed at inter-cultural/faith/sect understanding and countering terrorism. If companies ignore how they impact (both positively and negatively) on a country’s conflict(s), and how they can proactively help prevent or mitigate violent conflict, what is the point of sustainable development when big business is such a key global player? And ultimately, peace means prosperity for both communities and business. 

How can companies contribute to Goal 16?

The United Nations Global Compact, with over 8,000 business members, engages companies on Goal 16 through three work-streams  including Anti-corruption, Business for Peace, and Business for the Rule of Law. The organisation, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects has worked with the Global Compact to develop guidance  on Goal 16. This outlines different steps for companies, such as how to identify specific actions that adTGG_Icon_Color_16dress conflict drivers and build peace, while measuring, evaluating and communicating these actions. A guidance tool is also available for companies operating in high-risk areas, which shows how companies can increase their positive impacts through core business, government relations, stakeholder engagement, and social investment. These examples assist companies to engage Goal 16’s targets such as fostering rule of law, equal access to justice, accountable institutions, and reducing corruption.

By applying ‘corporate peacemaking’ (CPM), companies can more strongly contribute to the following Goal 16 targets:

  • Strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, for building capacity at all levels, in particular in developing countries, to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime; and
  • Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere.

What is corporate peacemaking?

CPM is the more political/diplomatic role of corporate representatives when they support conflict resolution efforts or peace processes at the local or national levels. The overall aim is to help bring ‘conflict parties’ like communities, government and/or armed groups together for talks.

Business representatives can actively participate in these processes, or give more general support such as advocacy, lobbying or marketing for peace, and providing local information for the early-warning of conflict. Mediators and relevant others, must decide on the form that business support takes.

Strengthening national institutionsto reduce violence

One example of potential CPM is to develop corporate partnerships with other actors to build an infrastructure throughout a country of ‘peace commissions’ or similar. These deal effectively with conflict from the local to the national level. This infrastructure mediates localised conflict, preventing it from threatening peace nationally. It can build understanding across society of how to handle conflict non-violently, and facilitate reconciliation and inclusive processes that engage wider society, not just the elite. This sets the tone for inclusive governance and social and economic justice. Business leaders might help coordination and collaboration within this infrastructure

In the volatile 1990s peace process of South Africa, at leastseven ‘layers’ of mediation were created, ranging from a National Peace Committee down to regional and local peace committees. Central, was the provision of training for key people and institutions in mediating disputes. The South African Consultative Business Movement (CBM), a collective of international and local businesses, helped establish the local/regional peace committees, and CBM staff and some company representatives held committee leadership roles. At the national level, the CBM provided process, administrative and mediation support for negotiations[i].

In coming decades, transnational peace and security may deteriorate due to climate change factors driving conflict in regions hit by extreme weather, food shortage, disease and migration. Understanding how to support peace in communities will be key, and it is therefore imperative that companies contribute where they can to such efforts.

A ‘future-important’ issue is the new alternative energy industries and their related companies and supply chains. These supply chains include for instance, mining and chemical companies, and solar and wind farms. When considering the
SDGs, the link between Goal 16 and Goal 7 must be highlighted. SDG 7 states, ‘Ensure access to affTGG_Icon_Color_07ordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.’ Corporate peacemaking is relevant to alternative energy actors, which often benefit from a ‘clean and green’ image, but can also have negative impacts on conflict. For example, alternative energy technologies such as lithium-ion battery systems and their electronics, are used in electric vehicles, electricity micro-grids, and for energy storage for solar systems and wind farms. These technologies often use scarce/critical materials (cobalt) or ‘conflict minerals’ (gold, tin, tungsten, tantalum), which have fuelled conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo for example. Communities can also be pushed from their land to make way for solar and wind farms in the same way that indigenous owners and local communities have been shifted for mining operations until now. Companies and their supply chains must develop understanding of CPM to avoid exacerbating conflict in surrounding communities and to support peace initiatives towards Goal 16.

NATALIE RALPH, PhD, is the author of Peacemaking and the Extractive Industries: Towards a Framework for Corporate Peace (Greenleaf Publishing, September 2015). Based in Australia, Natalie is an Associate Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, and Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation. Contact: n.ralph@deakin.edu.au,   Twitter: @corporatepeace.

[i] Fourié, A. (2005). “Brokering Peace and Building the Nation The National Business Initiative in South Africa”, in P.V. Tongeren, M. Brenk, M. Hellema, and J. Verhoeven (eds), People Building Peace II: Successful Stories of Civil Society (Boulder: Lynne Rienner), pp.4-5; Eloff, T. (1999). “South African Business and the Transition to Peace and Democracy: From Honest Broker to Constructive Partner”, in European Center for Conflict Prevention (ECCP), People Building Peace (Utrecht: ECCP), pp.2-3; Lederach, J.P. (1997). Building Peace Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press), p.51; CBM (1997). Submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 1988-1994 (14 December: Johannesburg: CBM), pp.18-20; Ramwell, S. (1993). “The Role of Business in Transition: A Supplement to The Star”, 17 June, The Star, supplement, South Africa, p.6.




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