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The private sector and peace: What does Tunisia’s Nobel Peace Prize teach us?

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A Tunisian woman makes and sells items from palm tree by-products.
Private companies are often associated with profit maximization, labor exploitation and environmental harm especially in conflict situations. But can companies like Airtel in Kenya or a small enterprise in Sri Lanka contribute to peace?

Yes! This year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize shows that it is not only possible but that it is already happening. The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet including UTICA helped Tunisia’s transition into a civil and peaceful democracy. UTICA is the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts and represents about 150,000 private companies.

The Quartet’s role in Tunisia is well publicized by now, but to note, UTICA is taking this consensus further towards the adoption of structural reforms needed to re-launch the economy, through a Tunisia 2020 program that will restore the competitiveness of Tunisian companies and create fast and sustainable growth.  provides a good example of how the private sector can contribute to a virtuous cycle of peace and economic growth.

But it is time to recognize also the other cases in which private companies and organizations played a prominent role in peace contribution.

In Kenya, following the 2007/2008 post-election violence where businesses were badly hit, the private sector promoted a reform agenda which resulted in the constitutional referendum 2010. In preparation of the next presidential elections in 2013 the private sector undertook a whole range of activities for preventing electoral violence. This included strategic sponsorship of candidates; training media owners and journalists how to report on political issues in a way that would not lead people to turn to violence; as well as sustained advocacy with the executive, legislative and judiciary to help create and endure the good business environment needed to spur business growth and the economy. These measures together had a great impact and the 2013 elections were held peacefully.

In Sri Lanka, the Colombo corporate community joined in alliances to lobby for peace after the 2001 bombings of Colombo International Airport. The most prominent of these ventures was Sri Lanka First (SLF) which was formed by a group of trade associations in the garment, tea, tourism and freight sectors. They had a strong voice as these associations include some of the 500 biggest companies which together produce around 40% of national GDP. This was the first organized, high-profile campaign to mobilize citizens into supporting a call for immediate negotiations and a peaceful resolution to the conflict which helped to bring a pro-peace government to power.

These are just two very noteworthy examples, but there exist many more and we should learn more about them. Of course there are also cases in which the private sector’s engagement failed. What is the key to success? In general we can say that the success of business engagement in peace processes depends primarily on the following five factors:
  1. The proven or perceived financial costs of conflict. In some contexts there are earlier experiences of conflict, where the amount of losses have been quantified either on national or sectorial scale. To be able to show with data how a country or sector can be affected economically by conflict is an extremely strong argument for engagement. In other situations estimates can be calculated to motivate partners to engage.
  2. The private sector’s credibility and legitimacy. The private sector cannot walk into a peace negotiation; it has to earn its place. It can do so if its activities are credible and legitimate, and the negotiating parties understand the value of the private sector in developing understanding of the conflict context.
  3. The private sector’s ability to act collectively. If the private sector does not see peace as in the interests of the entire sector, the sector’s peacebuilding attempts falter. However, if a few companies provide the lead, this can convince others of the benefits and they will participate in collective action.
  4. The private sector’s experience of social engagement. If the private sector has experience of engaging with a range of actors, it makes discussions and negotiations more productive.
  5. The understanding and acceptance of the notion of peace dividend. While armed conflict imposes collective costs on society, few companies systematically calculate the costs of conflict on their own operations, unless they are specifically attacked, or the benefits that an end to the conflict might bring.
The activities private sector actors can do to contribute to peace are manifold and can be both internal and external, from how the company is managed, to how they do business and production and engage with the community. I’d be interested to hear about any examples of proactive peacebuilding and conflict sensitive actions which you may know of.


Daniela Henrike Klau-Panhans

Senior Operations Officer, Fragility, Conflict and Violence Group, The World Bank

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