Companies have an abiding interest in establishing peace and stability as the foundations for investment, reducing risk and, ultimately, the returns that they can offer to shareholders. In investment and operational decisions, businesses must consider both the impact their presence will have on conflict dynamics and security and also the impacts that conflict may have on their ability to be productive and operate safely. Where companies have established operations or are considering investment in environments of conflict, they inevitably become an integral part of the dynamics of conflict; their resources and revenues often become contested assets and a primary means through which hostilities are sustained. In these cases, economic factors often motivate Armed Non State Actors (ANSAs), who may greatly influence the onset, course and resolution of armed conflict. (Wennmann 2009)
An International Peace Academy study found “a dearth of reliable empirical information on corporate decision-making in conflict settings”. (Sherman 2001) The guidance which does exist for companies (e.g. International Alert’s Conflict Sensitive Business Practice, UN Global Compact’s Guidance on Responsible Business in Conflict-Affected and High Risk Areas) provides insights into the myriad issues that must be taken into consideration by businesses dealing with the presence of ANSAs.
However, it needs to be deepened to really assist companies in navigating the dichotomy that ANSAs pose: on the one hand, armed groups may have key information; on the other hand, they may distort or misrepresent the context or seek other ways to profit from the corporate presence, and establishing contact with them may extend them unwarranted legitimacy.
It should be noted that while some ANSAs are predatory, many have strong links to local communities and often draw on community support by purporting to represent long-term historical grievances. In some cases, therefore, dialogue with armed groups can become a business necessity, both as part of an on-going context and stakeholder analysis and as part of normal due diligence and community engagement.
Despite growing recognition of private sector responsibilities with respect to human rights and security, representatives from companies and multi-lateral initiatives continually ask for more guidance on how to deal responsibly with the presence of ANSAs while living up to principles for security and human rights.
These companies want to act responsibly but they urgently need practical guidance on how to deal with ANSAs without breaching their legal responsibilities or further fuelling war economies.
Guidance on responsible business practices specifically in situations where ANSAs are present would therefore offer a meaningful contribution to the broader body of knowledge on operating in these types of complex environments.
By Dost Bardouille, Director, CDA. Originally posted on USIP’s International Network for Economics and Conflict September 30, 2011