What are some practical examples and lessons from business contributions 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 practical examples and lessons from business contributions to peace.  A one-hour live panel will take place Wednesday 19 October from 10am ET / 3pm UK.

The discussion will focus on three questions:

 

  1. Can you share practical examples of companies that have explicitly or implicitly impacted on peace?  What lessons might we draw from their work?
  2. Thinking about some of the current trends, what are some of the other ways in which businesses can most effectively contribute to peace?
  3. How can different stakeholders, from business, government and civil society best work together in pursuit of peace?

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Mengjin, I do agree with you. This issue with Apple is kind of controversial. Apple refused to provide customer private information because they were standing in the point of corporate ethic aspect. I think this is an good example of good trust as well. Apple thought this was the right thing to do, to keep clients' data security. As talking about FBI, they are standing in the point of country's security issue. From my knowledge, I believe that they have the technology to check people's data somehow. They should find out a way by themselves, rather than asking Apple to share their database. 

Mengjin Sun said:

Qiming, the Apple and FBI example you mentioned here is great to debate on. I think Apple is standing from customers' perspective and is trying to make customer feel safe about Apple protecting their privacy. However, in serious situations like this, which could impact national security, I think government should enforce laws to give right to company to disclose customers' information. So companies like Apple can do the right thing legally without facing social dilemma. 

Qiming Liu said:

One recent example is the Apply versus FBI on the encryption issue about a potential terrorist's iPhone. Since Apple actually refused to do so and this would impact the other innocent people life, we need to be aware the conflicts between company values and social welfares. Apple did not prepare better solutions for a situation like this in advance and may be not fully aware how their products will impact the world peace in this way.

Charity is a common way to relieve the poor people so that their life are secure and there are fewer attacks because of income gap. Alternatively, media company could leverage their huge audience to post more initiatives that promotes world peace, for example, on the World Peace Day. In this way, people will see the information repetitively and take more actions following the campaigns.

I think a channel for discussion in terms of current social issues related to world peace needs to be extended to more companies. With more conference, business and governmental organizations will be able to understand each other’s problems better. In addition, they could utilize their resources in a better place. But before these communications, there are common grounds necessary to be established to improve the quality of communication and make sure both party are heading to the right direction. That is mutual respect, patience and attitude to seek for solutions and other important things.     

I do agree with you that different parties need to hear from each other. However, hearing is only the initial step toward peace. Business exists because of profit. Government and Business should work together to find solutions on how to make first, the business profitable, and second, how to improve the economical state without harming mother nature. Business and Government need to think globally in terms of creating peace. Peace for one region should not be classified as peace since the progress might be the result of sacrificing other regions. Therefore, I believe business and governments around the globe should work as an entity to address peace. Improving peace cannot only benefit the business environment but also generate more ideas and the exchange of ideas. These will help improve the overall human development.

Xiao Chen said:

To response to the third question, I would say one of the important steps to let stakeholders from different areas work together is that one should learn to "hear from others". We should always respect voice from anyone. If everyone's ideas or thougts have been heard, the members or employees' satisfaction level will increase. Thus will automatically lead to a peace environment. 

There are many examples that corporates contribute to peace in the world. Similar to Coca Cola, which is mentioned before, its largest competitor PepsiCo also puts much effort on building the peace. For instance, PepsiCo launched a Mother Water Cellar project in southwest China. The volunteers in PepsiCo helped construct a water purification tower, which would benefit hundreds of children in the local school. Also, PepsiCo had a project called “Food for Good”, which served free and nutritious food to inner-city children in US. Pepsi donates millions of money on charity every year. The company contributes a lot on improving the communities and thus shows a positive brand image.


Varun Alse said:

I agree with Paula that marketing can be an effective measure to promote peace. Beverage industry giant Coca Cola operates in over 200 countries and has done a great job of portraying this message through its advertisements. One recent example being its "Share a Coke" campaign, where the company encourages sharing Coke products and peace with other parties. Although this campaign is a more abstract signal of peace, Coca Cola has made it clear that they believe in peace on a global level. They have had many TV advertisements and billboards that show different cultures coming together around its product. Specifically, there are billboards displayed with the hands of people of different races holding a Coke bottle cap together. Yes, this could be seen as a ploy to exploit consumer behavior since consumers value companies that benefit the community. But my understanding is that whether we like it or not, advertisements like these do subliminally affect that way we think, and in this case, make us more exposed to the ideology of global peace.

Paula Gutierrez Perez said:

Thinking on the trends that are right now, I think business can contribute to peace in a lot of different ways. I think using marketing and social media to promote peace to people and share different positive and peaceful advertising campaigns will be a really good idea. Then, companies should start giving incentives and rewards to intercultural practices and activities, BMW is doing this right now. Lastly, I would say that increasing the diversity in the company will be a good idea to start promoting peace.  

As Mark Zuckerburg and Warren Buffet, many great businessmen and entrepreneur also have great contribution to the peace. Another example is George Soros. He started Open Society Foundation in 1979, which put much efforts on international causes, community development, education and health. The Open Society Foundation is famous for its contribution on human rights. Soros had provided scholarships to black South Africans under apartheid. Those businessmen like Soros and Buffet show the important role business can play in pursuit of peace.



John William Sances Machalek said:

Warren Buffet has done essentially the same thing, he plans on leaving little money to his children and to donate most of his money. He lives in the same house and has had the same car for over a decade. He doesn't believe in flourishing in his money and he has been the prime example of a humble man for the younger generation, especially those on Wall Street. If more people could live by his standards, well within their means, then the world be a better place. Not being consumed in greed would be a monumental stride for society as a whole.

Xiyu Zhang said:

The first question reminds me of the contribution made by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan that they have pledged to donate 99% of their Facebook shares to the cause of human advancement and are planing to donate billions to fight diseases. What they have done and what they are going to do is profound and a wonderful example to show how a great entrepreneur and a great company can do to build peace, to create stable environment and better society beyond only focusing on profits. 

I agree with John that for a company like Toms to be able to deliver to its mission of larger benefit to the society, they need to be able to compete with for-profit organizations and even receive subsidies to make it easier for them. However, in my opinion often what happens with organizations such as Toms is that they subordinate the interests of their shareholders to the overall mission of the organization, which creates a huge debate between whether meeting the expectations of shareholders is more important or living up to its mission. If we consider shareholder theory and maxims posited by Milton Friedman, if Toms focused solely on being as profitable as possible, they would not only satisfy shareholder but also meet their mission by giving back more to the society at large. In that sense they can do the best by focusing on being competitive and generating as much as return as possible, which basically means thinking of themselves as a for-profit organization.

The moment they think of themselves as a not-for profit organization, the mentality of the management shifts towards a survival instead of thriving mindset which make them inefficient very similar to governmental organizations. Thus it seems that the best way businesses can contribute to peace is by relying on shareholder theory and maximizing their commercial output.

Marissa Sinai said:

I agree that companies like TOMS Shoes are important in showing the way that companies can make a positive impact on the world. However, it is has been recently noticed that what TOMS is doing may be actually hurting the places it donates to just as much as it helping them. This article explains those reasons: http://www.whydev.org/some-bad-news-about-toms-shoes/. This makes me wonder if certain businesses are manipulating the public into believing that the one thing that differentiates them from competitors is their "good deeds". Like TOMS, these companies could just be using their good deeds to gain more business, even though what they are doing is not actually the best course of action possible. I do think though, that companies like TOMS who are willing to do anything at all to help the world prove to consumers and the rest of the population that businesses can and do try to give back and help. Even if there is more that could be done, or alternative options for helping their cause, at least these companies are doing something and are making a difference in the way that the world views large corporations.

John William Sances Machalek said:

TOMS Shoes has been able to make a huge stride in todays modern corporate era. Showing that a company can almost solely exist to help people around the world. Everyone needs shoes and TOMS has been a leader in social responsibility around the globe. Of course, they may not be the most profitable company and may not be the best company to invest in, but they are making a difference. However, this impact they are creating should allow them to receive certain subsidiaries so they can be more competitive in the eyes of investors. More and more companies are popping up that offer the promotion of "Buy a product, give a product." Ten years ago, this model would have never been successful, but this strong push towards helping everyone in the world and equality has allowed this business model to succeed in its earliest stages. There is a lot of work to be done to create a successful business model that can compete with for-profit organization, but I believe that people are starting to see the impact companies can make around the globe.

Businesses can generate peace and give back to the community and society in several ways and in the modern world where competition is getting fierce among businesses, corporate social responsibility is almost becoming a boilerplate differentiator for businesses, to the point where the term CSR loses its meaning. This can be demonstrated through two examples.

On one hand, we have companies like British Petroleum which go through massive efforts of 'greenwashing' to make themselves appear sustainable and socially responsible through programs such as veteran and women in engineering support programs and funds for olympics and paralympic athletes. Yet when debacles such as oil spills occur, they hold back on the optimum course of action owing to financial 'astuteness'. Thus from a utilitarian perspective their contribution to society nets out neutral at best and one cannot help but wonder if their contribution to peace is anything but a front to neutralize their destructive activities. From Milton Freedman's perspective, such commercial contribution to peace is merely a means to maximize returns to shareholders through corporate image maximization while ignoring other stakeholders.

On the other hand, we have companies such as Google, which have prodigious programs to give back to society such as Code for America, Raspberry Pi, and thousand of hours employee volunteering at local not for profit organizations, it does not publicize them for the sake of appearing charitable and improve customer retention to maximize profits. The majority of people would not even be aware if such programs because that is the true nature of giving back. Corporations such as Google do it to fulfill their social responsibility and to create peace, not merely to maximize shareholder returns through indirect means.

In the light of this perspective, a pressing question comes to mind: "Is it acceptable for business to attempt to create peace for the sake of maximizing shareholder returns or do the means matter just as much as the end?"

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