In fragile countries like Afghanistan, businesses can play an active role in building sustainable peace, especially as the country seeks to carve out a large role for itself in regional connectivity projects.
Afghanistan is hoping to play a part in upcoming regional initiatives such as China’s One Belt, One Road, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the United States’ New Silk Road initiative. Kabul expects that international investment in the required infrastructure such as roads, railroads and gas pipelines will help generate local employment, and maximize opportunities for the country.
Investment in medium-sized enterprises (MEs) can play a central role in building sustainable peace in the country, by addressing some of the main drivers of the conflict such as unemployment and lack of access to basic service. It can also make conflict-related jobs, such as fighter or militant, less attractive by providing community members with employment skills that would allow them to find a job or set-up a small business.
However, increased investment in Afghanistan also comes with risks. Without taking the appropriate measures, investments can further deepen ethnic divides or damage state-citizen relations if it doesn’t benefit local population or benefits one community over another.
MEs are the most vulnerable to the various manifestations of violent conflict. While owners of large-scale businesses have easy access to government actors and means to influence policies, MEs do not, and therefore have the most to benefit from conflict-sensitive employment practices and peacebuilding initiatives.
International Alert’s experience of working with businesses shows that MEs are an intrinsic part of the communities where they work and have the potential to bring together conflicting parties by creating shared economic interests.
In some cases, MEs can also be more effective than larger businesses when it comes to implementing socially responsible policies. For example, our work with Business for Peace Alliance in Sri Lanka showed that it was in the interest of businesses from different ethnic and religious communities to work together to instil early-warning mechanisms as outbreak of communal violence led to damages for all groups.
In addition to investment, MEs in Afghanistan need support as well as flexibility and trust from the Afghan government and international community, in order to adopt employment practices that cause no harm, contribute to peace and effectively manage the complex political and social dynamics of their communities.
Based on research on successful practices of Afghan transport and construction companies, International Alert, the Bonn International Centre for Conversion and the Liaison Office have developed a Conflict-Sensitive Employment Framework (CSEF), which advocates the creation of meaningful jobs that provide prospects for individuals and reduce, or at least do not fuel, local violent conflicts.
Here are three ways in which the international community can support businesses in contributing to building peace in Afghanistan:
1. Encourage local businesses to apply conflict-sensitive employment
To encourage business to use the CSEF, donors can include it as part of the selection criteria in tenders, through multilaterals or funds. Companies can also be encouraged to apply the CSEF by rewarding those who do with a preferred supplier status.
Companies also need support to implement the CSEF, for example through capacity building to conduct conflict analysis, stakeholder mapping, consultation and negotiations.
MEs are more likely to succeed if the standards for decent jobs and working conditions are contextually relevant and applicable. Moreover, businesses should be encouraged and supported to design and implement strategic corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives that can support community-based initiatives aiming to improve well-being and/or livelihood opportunities for vulnerable community members.
2. Recognize local challenges
Donors need to recognize local challenges and support companies to adapt and respond to them. For example, local companies sometimes need to deal with armed non-state actors, so they may need support to strengthen their negotiations and mediation capacities.
Technical and vocational training need to be designed in consultation with the local companies so that they are driven by the business’s needs, and are available where companies are working, as opposed to urban centers only.
3. Monitor and evaluate progress and compliance incrementally
Investors need to design monitoring and evaluation criteria and indicators that are realistic, contextually relevant, and applicable for businesses to measure their compliance with the CSEF and other standards.
Being realistic is key here: Success milestones or indicators should recognize and appreciate incremental compliance, and keep the contextual realities in mind. Providing technical expert support will also help improve compliance.
The views in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Peacebuilding Deeply.