How might one empirically assess the contribution of business actions to peace?

This written discussion is part a new month-long Challenge with Indiana University around the question: “What role can business play in pursuit of peace?”  The Challenge consists an online programme of written articles and online discussions, available on the Challenge homepage.

 

Despite the fact that broad macroeconomic connections between business and peace have long been acknowledged more needs to be done.  This Challenge aims to deepen understanding around the role that business can play in peacekeeping, peace making, and peace building.

This discussion focuses on how one might empirically assess business actions and how such quantification might be valuable for businesses and society alike.  A one-hour live panel will take place on Wednesday 26 October from 10am ET / 3pm UK.

The discussion will focus on three questions:

 

  1. What are some of the options for empirically measuring the contribution of companies to peace?
  2. What are some of the issues involved in measuring the contribution of businesses to peace?
  3. Some argue that we should rank companies on their contribution to peace, or alternatively certify them against some standard.  Which might be better and should they be made public or used to inform internal management decisions?  What role should business play in developing these approaches?

 

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Thinking of the first question, I would say there are many different ways for companies to contribute to peace. For example, Marketing is a very good way to promote peace to people. Businesses can use social media to share peaceful advertising campaigns. For example, BMW has a Blessing Basket Project, which helps people live in Africa to sell their handmade baskets. BMW makes a lot of advertisements not only on their website but also on TV. Moreover, it is also a good way for companies to contribute to peace by increasing the diversity. 

For the first question, I also agree with Yunqian Gong that one of ways that a business can promote peace is through marketing. A business can sell its products/services by contributing to the world peace, like a business can give donation to the United Nations everytime a consumer purchase the products/services. An interesting example of it is how Coca Cola launched a campaign called Coke Small World campaign where they put videos of poor condition in Pakistan and India by putting live video feeds on the vending machine. 

To answer the second and third question, we realize that sometimes we cannot really get the exact measurement on how a business supports peace and fight poverty. We might not know whether the business really send all of the help or not which is why I might say that it is important that a business proves it by making another commercial/announcement showing that the donation has been delivered to the right party. I am not sure that I am agree with how a business should reach a certain standard to get certified. I always believe that when one has the intention to do good deeds, we should not measure it while we should embrace it despite of how much or how big the effort is.  

Regarding the third discussion question - specifically "What role should business play in developing these approaches?" – I can’t help but think about potential perverse incentives that could be introduced.  As an example, the documentary Poverty Inc. illustrates how many of the most well-intentioned charitable efforts to eradicate poverty actually reinforced many of the underlying causes of poverty.  This is because charitable handouts to poor countries in the form of free or subsidized resources can disrupt local entrepreneurial efforts that have greater potential to introduce sustainable prosperity. 

I am of the opinion that businesses operating in poor countries will inherently support conditions for greater peace (provided that they operate ethically) through the creation of employment opportunities and economic growth – two powerful drivers of societal stability.  Thus, the best role businesses could play in the contributing to peace is to pursue the profit motive.  More direct attempts at developing peace – perhaps in the form of conflict intervention – should be left to state authorities.

 

I agree with Victor that the best way a business can promote and produce peace is to go about their daily actions to increase profits. In poorer countries where these companies that choose to do business they bring with them opportunity and employment that help the overall community and increase the standard of living. When a business takes responsibility of conflict prevention they are allocating unnecessary resources toward this process. These responsibilities should be left up to a state authority that has the available resources so businesses can focus on increasing their own profitability and expanding to other areas of the world they may be needed.

Victor Lu said:

Regarding the third discussion question - specifically "What role should business play in developing these approaches?" – I can’t help but think about potential perverse incentives that could be introduced.  As an example, the documentary Poverty Inc. illustrates how many of the most well-intentioned charitable efforts to eradicate poverty actually reinforced many of the underlying causes of poverty.  This is because charitable handouts to poor countries in the form of free or subsidized resources can disrupt local entrepreneurial efforts that have greater potential to introduce sustainable prosperity. 

I am of the opinion that businesses operating in poor countries will inherently support conditions for greater peace (provided that they operate ethically) through the creation of employment opportunities and economic growth – two powerful drivers of societal stability.  Thus, the best role businesses could play in the contributing to peace is to pursue the profit motive.  More direct attempts at developing peace – perhaps in the form of conflict intervention – should be left to state authorities.

 

I agree with Gong that advertisements are a good way to promote and contribute to peace. However, I do not think it can empirically measure the contributions each company has on peace. Are you just saying that the company made the most advertisements contributed the most to peace? I do not think so. I think a huge part in marketing is the conversion rate, meaning how many people actually did what the advertisements told them to do or how many people are actually being help by the projects. Taking Gong's BMW project for example, I think the only way to measure BMW's contribution are 1. how many baskets were sold? 2. how much money were raised? 3. how many African families were help in the project? I think by sampling using the amount of advertisement or marketing strategies a company used, it only tells the effort the company was contributing to peace. However, I think effort is not good enough. A devoted company who is contributing to peace should convert what they tell in their advertisement into actual numbers of financial figures.

Measuring the contributions of companies to peace is a challenging proposition, mainly because "contributions to peace" can be hard to define. However, there are some metrics that might help. First, charitable donations by companies is perhaps the most obvious metric. This can be further refined by focusing on charities that relate to poverty or operate in war torn countries, like the Red Cross/Crescent. Secondly, companies can be measured based on the number of war-torn or impoverished countries they operate in. This measurement should be augmented by metrics that account for wages, contributions to local charitable organizations, and employee benefits/education efforts. As Victor said, businesses that operate in impoverished areas inherently contribute to peace by providing employment.

Assessing the contribution of business actions to peace will need to involve a lot of data gathering. Conflicts or violence may differ per country, area, or even a small community, so it is best to take it into consideration when analyzing those data.  A business or an institution will have to identify problems and possible root causes of conflicts or violence in the society, or in a community. After identifying conflicts or violence that has the most impact in that particular area, they can then formulate solutions or improvements for those problems. They can make certain benchmarks they want to achieve, and have a before and after comparison after implementing those probable solutions. It would be difficult to identify just one key solution to conflicts and violence, but rather it would be better to try different approaches and see which combinations will work best for a community.

I agree with a lot of people, when I say that business definitely has a role in peace.  I think that what Anheuser Busch did during Flint water crisis is a great example.  For one week, they took their production and canned clean drinking water instead of beer.  This was something they were completely capable of doing, both production wise, and financially wise.  There are so many other companies that are doing so well, and it would really put no financial strain on them to do something like what Anheuser Busch did, just to help someone.  If more companies worked like this, there would be a lot more peace.

You make a great point, Brian.  I think the easiest way to measure it would be to simply see if companies are making a good faith attempt to help those in need, since there is no good way to measure it financially speaking.  Even if every company that was able to, just did something small to help the world, it could make a huge difference, and inspire others to do the same.

Brian Suhre said:

Measuring the contributions of companies to peace is a challenging proposition, mainly because "contributions to peace" can be hard to define. However, there are some metrics that might help. First, charitable donations by companies is perhaps the most obvious metric. This can be further refined by focusing on charities that relate to poverty or operate in war torn countries, like the Red Cross/Crescent. Secondly, companies can be measured based on the number of war-torn or impoverished countries they operate in. This measurement should be augmented by metrics that account for wages, contributions to local charitable organizations, and employee benefits/education efforts. As Victor said, businesses that operate in impoverished areas inherently contribute to peace by providing employment.

As an answer to question number three, I think certifying companies against some sort of "peace standard" and making this public knowledge would be a smart thing to do. This would hold companies liable for their actions and might make them think about how their decisions might impact others.

Take for instance the Niger Delta, an area of Africa that is abundant with wildlife and is home to millions of people. Shell and ExxonMobil, two large international conglomerates, have been stationed here for decades. Given they are companies with such wealth and power, they have the ability to help the surrounding communities and create a peaceful interaction between them and the natives. Instead of this, they have relied on using their power to do what they want at great cost to the environment and people of the area. Thus, the natives have rebelled and there now exists a group of rebels known as the Avengers that go around sabotaging these oil pipelines. They have chosen to do so to make a point and rebel against the harsh treatment they receive from these oil companies. If Shell, ExxonMobil, and the other oil companies were to focus on rehabilitating this land, assisting the community with clean up and treating these communities with respect then they could exist together in peace.

Now if there was this so-called "peace standard" then maybe these companies would be a bit more conscious of their actions. They might choose to work with the locals and try to create a peaceful relationship with these people. At this point in time, the public and investors are a lot more concerned with the social responsibility and integrity of companies around the world. If this "peace standard" was public knowledge, companies might be more cognizant of it knowing that people are then aware of how they helping to make the world a better, more peaceful place. 

Measuring the contribution of the peace is definitely a big challenge as collecting the data may be very difficult. Once the data is found, another problem arises where as to find if the data is actually relevant to be used for the study of measuring the contribution. Once the big companies figure out the formula of showing external good side of the company, the true contribution of the peace is questionable. I agree that the measure of the contribution of the peace can only be comparable through data analytics because it is the factual and evidence that can be compared. However, there still lies the complexity of assessing whether the contribution was with the culture of the company of the brand image making events. 

Joana Cruz said:

Assessing the contribution of business actions to peace will need to involve a lot of data gathering. Conflicts or violence may differ per country, area, or even a small community, so it is best to take it into consideration when analyzing those data.  A business or an institution will have to identify problems and possible root causes of conflicts or violence in the society, or in a community. After identifying conflicts or violence that has the most impact in that particular area, they can then formulate solutions or improvements for those problems. They can make certain benchmarks they want to achieve, and have a before and after comparison after implementing those probable solutions. It would be difficult to identify just one key solution to conflicts and violence, but rather it would be better to try different approaches and see which combinations will work best for a community.

I think Brian brings up some very good points. It will be difficult to measure a company's contributions to peace. Thus, there would need to be a set of standards and evaluation points for companies to be analyzed against. I agree with Brian's other points, but the last one on how businesses that operate in impoverished areas inherently contribute to peace by providing employment is not always true. Sometimes a company enters an impoverished area and needs only a few employees to keep the operation running. In this case, they provide few jobs and reap all the benefits. In the case of oil companies in the Niger Delta, they provided few jobs, polluted the environment and harmed a lot of the population thus leading to the state they are at now--rebels are sabotaging their oil pipes and nothing peaceful is happening there. 

Brian Suhre said:

Measuring the contributions of companies to peace is a challenging proposition, mainly because "contributions to peace" can be hard to define. However, there are some metrics that might help. First, charitable donations by companies is perhaps the most obvious metric. This can be further refined by focusing on charities that relate to poverty or operate in war torn countries, like the Red Cross/Crescent. Secondly, companies can be measured based on the number of war-torn or impoverished countries they operate in. This measurement should be augmented by metrics that account for wages, contributions to local charitable organizations, and employee benefits/education efforts. As Victor said, businesses that operate in impoverished areas inherently contribute to peace by providing employment.

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