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The role of business in middle east peace-building

The role of business in middle east peace-building

David Grayson, Business in the Community, St George's House, Windsor Castle.

At the end of "The Natural," - a brilliant account of the Clinton Presidency1 - Joe Klein writes what I suspect will be a highly prophetic concluding sentence:

"He (Clinton) may be remembered as the president who served before history resumed its contentious dance, before life got serious again."

As we approach the first anniversary of 9-11 and as our TV screens and newspapers are filled again with the images of the Twin Towers collapsing, and with reflections on what it all means, it is particularly timely to be having this consultation at St George's.

I was seven years old at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember vividly being in the school playground in Derbyshire and telling my schoolfriends: "I don't want to die!" I don't think the world has known a more dangerous time since the Cuban Missile crisis - until today.

History has indeed resumed its "contentious dance." As Einstein warned us: "we will not solve problems with the same thinking that produced the problem in the first place."

It is right, therefore, that we explore new approaches and out of the box thinking to the problem which is so dangerous to world peace and to all our futures. In this instance, the "out of the box" thinking is how can business contribute to peace in the Middle East - and to one of the most intractable elements of the Middle East Crisis - Israel and Palestine.

A preliminary point to stress is that this is not about business alone but about the contribution that business might play in partnership with other parts of civil society, academia, faith communities as well as governments and international institutions.

The paper prepared by Dale Lawton2 : "Corporate Social Responsibility and Peace-Building: A Case for Action in Israel and the Palestinian Territories" is a very helpful starting point for our discussions and I am going to pick out a number of items from the paper as the basis for my remarks. Dale rightly emphasises that Corporate Social Responsibility is about business behaviour which goes beyond legal requirements. The European Commission in its CSR White Paper in June defined CSR as:

I think it is about a business identifying the impacts: negative and positive which it has on the environment and on society - and actively seeking to minimise the negative impacts and maximise the positive impacts.

There is a growing interest in responsible business - and this is an international phenomenon. This has been demonstrated over the last ten days at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg Next week, we are launching a Brazilian edition of our book: Everybody's Business. There are business-led organisations championing responsible business in at least 40 countries around the world - such as Philippines Business for Social Progress, MA'ALA in Israel, and Accion Empressarial in Chile.

Enron, WorldCom et al have certainly made the issue topical - but there are long-term factors which pre-date these recent corporate scandals. They include the revolutions of markets, of technology and of values. We discuss these in "Everybody's Business: Managing Risks and Opportunities in To-day's Global Society3.

The consequence is that issues that were once regarded as soft by managers - community, environment, human rights, diversity, work-life balance - are now hard - hard to manage, hard to ignore - and very hard if you get them wrong. And - potentially - very costly. Yet conversely, managed effectively, these same issues can be a source of competitive advantage.

Businesses are discovering that in any of these now "hard" issues there are risks and opportunities. The motivation for business to adopt responsible business practice is, therefore, very hard-nosed. I also want to nuance Dale's suggested motivations for business action. .It is not "public good" instead of "profit" but both. CEOs are not doing this for "public image" reasons but for more substantial ones such as reputation, risk management and permission to do business. I would emphasise more than Dale's paper does, the link to risk management. The British Government, for example, in its planned Company Law reform is proposing that the one thousand or so largest firms must report on their environmental and social impacts as part of an "Operating and Financial Review4 ." Directors will have to decide what environmental and social issues are most relevant and material to their operation. Similarly, as a result of the second King Commission, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange is adopting tough new non-financial reporting requirements.

Dale is certainly right to emphasise that businesses adopting CSR practices does not automatically make them a responsible business. Enron did a lot of community involvement; the Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay was on the Clinton White House Sustainability Council etc.But the individual practices were not tied together by positive unifying values - the corporate DNA - "the way we do things around there." Businesses and markets - as well as individuals and societies - need values. Hence the importance of organisations like the Institute for Global Ethics - and why I am so delighted to be able to speak on this platform.

Dale Lawton's paper helpfully highlights the range of ways businesses are integrating corporate responsibility into their core operations. We have heard many more examples in Johannesburg - and I refer you to the new book published for the summit: "Walking the Talk5 ." A related article is one which which Adrian Hodges from IBLF and I wrote6 in The Financial Times on July 19th about how businesses need to integrating CSR practices.

One crucial point which we make in these is the importance of adapting to different cultures and traditions. I have already mentioned Israel Business for Social Responsibility. I hesitate - in the presence of such distinguished Islamic scholars - to try and interpret CSR in the context of Islamic values - but let me try. Insofar as I have understood Islamic values and traditions, it seems to me that there is a very strong resonance with these ideas of Corporate Social Responsibility. Specifically, the Islamic tradition places great store by brotherhood; fellowship; hospitality; sharing your wealth; tolerance , protection of the weak and minorities; and respects learning and ethics. Sustainable development should be a very comfortable idea for a culture which believes in putting back into society more than you take out and in stewardship.

This [meeting] is looking specifically at how Corporate Social Responsibility might help in the Middle East peace process. My colleague Peter Brew from Business in the Community's sister organisation IBLF, will be better able to speak to the Forum's study "The Business of Peace" - and the range of ways that business can contribute to building peace.

I must though make a very strong appeal - and that is - to be idealists without illusions! Please: do not destroy the kernel of a good idea - namely the role of business in conflict resolution - by exaggerating its potential. In particular, I would counsel caution in considering the scale of any business engagement or the speed of engagement occurring.

Dale's analysis of the reasons for the failure of "Builders for Peace" feels instinctively sound and those reasons remain pertinent - or, sadly, even worse. I have already voiced my concern at the juxtaposition of CSR versus profit.

I also think there are some important differences with the examples quoted from Northern Ireland and South Africa. The Ulster conflict and RSA are not necessarily perfect analogies. Both these situations took place inside one sovereign territory where a part of that territory was stable and had a solid business base which could be marshalled to help. This does not apply to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Nevertheless, there are some lessons. Business in the Community's work in Northern Ireland over the last 13 years has - I believe - been one of the many diverse building blocks helping to create the climate for dialogue between the different communities.

This is not to argue that nothing is possible! It is to temper the understandable and otherwise commendable enthusiasm of the paper. So what might be achievable? In the short-term I would concur with Dale's argument that business can help cement a peace settlement and/or prevent conflict - what it can't do is stop a war. Perhaps business can play a role in encouraging the antagonists to look faster for peace by committing to investment if they do. Perhaps leading Israeli/Palestinian businessmen - and maybe Israeli/Jordanian businessmen can put co-ordinated pressure on their governments to seek peace rather than continue the killing.

Longer-term, as the paper suggests, there are opportunities for business contributing expertise - for example, to building NGOs and better governance. This might also include help for micro-enterprises. It has been my privilege to help, periodically over the last decade, a pioneering fund in Israel which has helped Olim - new immigrants from the former Soviet Union - with finance and mentoring - to start their own businesses. The Shell LiveWIRE programme which helps young people to explore the option of self-employment, is now operating in nearly twenty companies - including Oman. Similar types of small business development programmes will be needed in Palestine. A crucial part of building peace will be incentivising business to move in to the region to invest in desalination plants because water is going to be a crucial factor in a comprehensive peace settlement. Investing in eco-tourism - as a diver who has had the privilege of going on dive safaris in the Sinai - I know there is great potential here. IBLF has a long-running International Hoteliers' Environment Initiative. And I know from previous visits to Israel and also to some of the cities on the West Bank and from talking to young professionals from both societies, how businesses which generate jobs and a stake in society are crucial peace-builders. This includes pre-recruitment or customised training - the IFC has been running a small-scale pre-recruitment training pilot in Egypt this year.

More broadly, there is a contribution which any business in any part of the world can make to promoting diversity . In the wonderful surroundings of St George's, perhaps I might conclude with a quotation from a book written by Rowan Williams - the next Archbishop of Canterbury: "Writing in the Dust - Reflections on September 11th and its aftermath"7.

".we have to see that we have a life in other people's imagination, quite beyond our control. Globalisation means that we are involved in dramas we never thought of, cast in roles we never chose."

I have no doubt that this will have to include some brave business leaders being prepared to engage in practical projects across deeply divided communities - all I would ask is for a sense of pragmatic idealism in visioning what forms and extent this might take - and in what timescales.

 

1: The Natural: The misunderstood presidency of Bill Clinton, Joe Klein, Doubleday, 2002
2: EU Commission June 2002
3: "Everybody's Business: Managing Risks and Opportunities in To-day's Global Society - David Grayson and Adrian Hodges - Dorling Kindersley / Financial Times - 2001
4: DEFRA Press release: Environmental Issues: First among equals in new Company Reporting Provisions
5: Walking the Talk -The Business Case for Sustainable Development - Holliday, Schmidheiny, Watts - Greenleaf Publishing 2002
6: Inside Track column - Financial Times - July 19th 2002
7: "Writing in the Dusk - Reflections on September 11th and its aftermath" - Rowan Williams - Hodder and Stoughton 2002

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