A Seat at the Table: Capacities and Limitations of Private Sector Peacebuilding

Executive Summary

This report presents the findings of a two-year learning project focused on identifying effective, peace-positive roles for the private sector in fragile and conflict-affected environments. It incorporates in-depth case studies, literature reviews, and extensive expert consultation. It was carried out by CDA Collaborative Learning (CDA), the Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (ACDS), and Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). It was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with several of the Colombia case studies funded by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland.

The project’s point of departure is the marked transformation over the past decade in the discourse on companies’ roles in conflict environments. Understanding of the management of social impacts has grown as consensus builds that companies must avoid negative societal impacts — through, for instance, complicity in human rights violations or through operational impacts that create social and environmental harm — as a matter of both risk management and responsible corporate citizenship. Beyond this, a growing number of scholars, governments, NGOs, and multilateral agencies argue that businesses can, do, and should act in ways that also contribute to peace.

Within this context, the project documents a wide range of company practices, connects these to the theories and assumptions on which different approaches are built, and assesses evidence of impact on key drivers of conflict and peace —those factors without which the conflict would not exist or would be significantly different. It also provides practical insights for more effective planning of business practice and interventions intended to influence business practice by peacebuilders, policy makers, and companies themselves.