The Role of Local Business in Peacebuilding

International attention has turned in recent years towards the critical, some would argue decisive, role that economic factors play in driving and perpetuating contemporary violent conflicts. A key aspect of this debate is the behaviour and impact of the private sector. Understandably, the discussions (at least on the NGO side) have largely centred on Transnational Corporations (TNCs), particularly those from the extractive sector and most often in the context of their negative impact on conflict. The well documented cases of Colombia and Nigeria, amongst others, illustrate the importance both of understanding these impacts and of acting to ensure the obvious potential benefits of natural resources accrue to societies as a whole rather than privileged elites. However, framing the ‘business and conflict’ debate in such a one-dimensional manner risks ignoring not only the immense diversity of the private sector but also the potentially constructive role businesses of various sizes and types can play in addressing conflict. It is one of the ironies of conflict transformation theory and practice that despite the evidence that local business has an important part to play, and a strong interest, in supporting peacebuilding initiatives, significantly less effort has been directed towards analysing and facilitating its role than for that of TNCs. This article aims to start addressing this gap by exploring four key questions: why to engage local business, how to do it, what form engagement can take, and with whom it is most likely to succeed. We base our propositions on involvement in and analysis of a substantive number of research, advocacy and consultancy projects. While we work from a broad collection of examples of potential business roles in conflict and peacebuilding, the cases are illustrative, and more systematic research and testing of hypotheses will be necessary.