The role of business in peacemaking

Jason Miklian

In the intricate landscape of peacemaking, the private sector has not yet played a significant role, and its potential is often overlooked. Since 2000, a mere 3 per cent of peace agreements have directly included the private sector. Meanwhile, economic actors can play a pivotal role in ensuring the durability of peace agreements and helping to increase social support for lasting peace. In the case of the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group in the 2000s and early 2010s, for example, business groups provided critical resources to facilitate dialogue, acting out of a combination of economic self-interest and a commitment to long-term national recovery. These contributions showed peacemakers the added value of business participation as a critical societal actor in both the agreement and its subsequent implementation.

Discussions at the Berlin Moot in April 2024 focussed on the potentials and challenges of business involvement in high-level peace processes. In a new policy brief on this topic, Jason Miklian, Senior Researcher at the University of Oslo and moderator of the Business for Peacemaking PeaceLab at The Berlin Moot, assesses the status quo of business engagement in peacemaking and shares his recommendations with business as well as peacemaking actors. These are his five key takeaways:

Opportunities for expanding the role of business

As businesses increasingly engage in fragile and conflict-affected settings, opportunities for inclusive economic engagement in peace processes are growing, such as helping to expand economic opportunities for disadvantaged communities or investing in local infrastructure. Today, over 30,000 companies have made commitments to peace initiatives in some shape or form. There are also significant opportunities when including business actors in peacemaking. Business activities for peacemaking can include financial support to peace processes, business associations contributing to ceasefire discussions, and CEO participation in peace negotiations. These activities are typically less visible than peacebuilding tasks and involve more direct engagement in conflict resolution processes, often requiring businesses to take on roles that carry higher reputational, social, and financial risks but potentially higher rewards.

Business involvement in peacemaking is rare but crucial

While business efforts for peacemaking are rare, their inclusion has shown significant promise. Involving business in these processes can enhance the robustness of peace agreements, incorporating vital economic stakeholders, fostering societal buy-in, and creating positive post-conflict economic environments.  

Business associations lead the way

Typically, business associations or chambers of commerce, rather than individual business leaders, spearhead peacemaking initiatives. These organisations, often composed of large national firms with an interest in long-term peace, are more likely to make the substantial long-term commitments needed to bolster peace.

Overcoming obstacles to business engagement

Despite the obvious benefits, several obstacles hinder the operationalising of business engagement. There are knowledge gaps in what firms know and want to know about peace processes. Additionally, there are responsibility gaps, with many firms believing that these problems are for politicians and conflict actors to solve. The lack of established mechanisms for business engagement, coupled with concerns over reputational and operational risks, also deters firms from participating in peacemaking. In addition, the peacemaking community is often hesitant to engage the private sector because it is perceived to not speak with one voice (similar to other interest groups in peace processes), and because their legitimacy and interest in engagement is often perceived as transactional in nature. Issues such as alignment of business objectives with the goals of peace processes, risks of exacerbating conflicts, and the potential for creating dependencies on business support can all hamper peacemaking aims.

The need for more research

Further research on business engagement in peacemaking is essential. Identifying which contributions – from increasing durability to constructiveness of peace negotiations – by the private sector are most beneficial can help incorporate businesses better. By understanding their specific roles, policymakers and peacemakers can better harness the potential business engagements in peacemaking.

Download the full policy brief below.

Jason Miklian, Ph.D., is a peace and conflict scholar based at the University of Oslo. Read more about him here.

The views in this article represent those of the author.