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Business and Finance Human Rights Conflict

Workshop Tackles the Question: What is the Role of Business in Conflict Zones?

a rusty fence on the beach
Transnational corporations could play a more proactive role in volatile, unstable environments. Photo: Salem Elizabeth/flickr

Within the last 20 years, the role of non-state actors – such as individuals and civil society organizations – within the international system has grown markedly. Consequently, new scholarly debates have emerged that seek to examine the role of non-state actors in today’s complex environments. In particular, the activities, actions, and even social responsibilities of business actors operating in conflict zones are increasingly being scrutinized.

On the one hand transnational corporations (TNC) in search of either cheap labor or access to extractive resources are moving more and more into developing, transitional economies where they are often confronted with challenging environments. To illustrate, the more recent uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) brought political risk to the doorstep of the TNC’s working in the region. Indeed, operating zones that were once relatively stable have become  volatile – not only forcing local residents to flee but local and international businesses (mostly in the oil and gas sector) to suspend operations. The impact of this has been most significant in Libya where, due to the violence between government and opposing forces and damage to energy infrastructure,  oil production has fallen from 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) to roughly 60,000 bpd.

Needless to say, the major role that TNCs often play in host operating environments has led to a growing awareness within the international community that business actors can be more proactive about achieving peace and security objectives in more volatile, unstable environs. Such awareness is illustrated in the various legal approaches that increasingly seek to hold multinational corporations accountable for their actions in host countries – especially corporations based in Western democracies that operate in states with weak governance structures. On the other hand, at the local level, the idea of tailored economic development achieved within the context of conflict dynamics has also gained support. Here, especially, the question of the role that local business actors play both in the conflict as well as in peacemaking objectives becomes central.

To further examine the activities, responsibilities and actions of TNCs, as well as local businesses, operating in conflict-prone, political risky areas, a scientific workshop will be convened by the Center for Security Studies (CSS) / ETH Zurich, swisspeace, and Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt (PRIF/ HSFK). This meeting will take place on 13-14 November 2011 at the Europa Institute in Basel – bringing together an intimate group of roughly 30 experts to present papers and debate findings from various academic perspectives such as political science, anthropology, peace and conflict studies, business ethics, and law. Following this workshop, on Tuesday, 15 November 2011 swisspeace will hold its annual conference in Bern to continue with the discussion from a more practical point of view. Though the workshop is restricted to invited speakers, the conference in Bern is open to the public.

Combined, this unique workshop-conference approach is anchored by 2 core objectives – first, to bring various experts and interested parties together to exchange ideas and insights in an intimate setting and, second, to facilitate new research on the role of business actors in conflict that bridges science with policy. Conference proceedings will be published on the swisspeace website and selected papers from the workshop will be published in an edited volume. For more information contact Jennifer Giroux.

Categories
Government Environment

A Storm in the Works

Oil, growth and security in Latin America, photo courtesy of Hubert Guyon/flickr

“Peru provides a dramatic example of a growing trend across Latin America where indigenous groups are challenging governments’ economic development programs by raising their voices against extractive industries,” Patricia Vasquez argues in USIP Peace Brief 19.

Across Latin America, economic growth is happening at a steady clip.  Similar to many countries in Africa, sustained growth is spurred by a demand for commodities – think oil, iron, ore, copper, gas, etc. –  needed to feed burgeoning economies, especially those in Asia. Indeed, such growth is counter to the trends happening in other parts of the globe where countries, in particular the United States and members of the EU, continue to grapple with economic contraction that has brought about hard policy decisions in the form of bailouts, stimulus packages, and cuts to social programs. In fact, a recent article in the New York Times noted how this trend has not only surprised analysts but also “surpassed the expectations of many [Latin American] governments themselves.”

Narrowing the focus to Peru, the country I am currently traveling through, the growth is palatable. Though great economic disparities exist and poverty is pronounced one can’t help but feel a buzz in the air – one aided and sustained by the development of Peru’s hydrocarbon areas and plans for expansion in the oil and natural gas sector (ONG). In 2009, as Peru’s GDP experienced over five percent growth, multinational oil and gas companies poured $800 million into the economy – making up for 50 percent of the nations tax revenues. A viable future in liquefied natural gas (LNG) production ensures that another $1 billion will be invested in the next few years.

Categories
Government Security

Electricity in Nigeria: (Sort of) Off and On

Power outages are a Nigerian norm, photo: Annemiek van der Kuil/flickr

This blog is part of a series of contributions documenting time spent in southern Nigeria to attend a conference and gather data for the targeting energy infrastructure (TEI) project.

In Nigeria, people celebrate when the lights come on. Admittedly, after barely a week in the country I too found myself joining in the collective, nationwide jubilee. The regular power outages throughout the country have created an emotional rollercoaster, whereby the mere act of sitting in a dark room that is at one moment illuminated by nothing more than a few flashlights (most of which are from mobile phones) and then at another buzzing with electricity. It’s nothing short of thrilling.

Yet the thrill soon dissipates in exchange for bewilderment. How can one of the top oil and gas producers in the world be short of energy to power its economy? Unfortunately, the irony doesn’t stop there. While millions of barrels of sweet, easily refined crude oil are shipped out of here daily to feed other economies, domestic fuel shortages have been a common feature in Nigeria. Years of militancy and criminal exploitation aimed at the oil and gas infrastructure in the energy-rich Niger Delta region mean there has been no development of new infrastructure, and overall mismanagement has limited the amount of supplies needed to feed domestic consumption. It wasn’t until last month that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) announced that fuel supplies exceeded national daily consumption rates for the first time in months. Accustomed to such scarcity, I found that most people frequently note when they see a station with short lines.

But the Nigerian civil society (and I would go further, to say African civil society) are extremely powerful, resourceful and innovative. What the state doesn’t provide, the community finds a way to supply. In the case of the energy shortages, Nigerians manage considerably well. For instance, the lively cyber café in Warri (which has become somewhat of a second home for me) is being powered by a generator as I scribble this blog. The actual power went off a long time ago. In fact, stepping outside one finds that the traffic noise is almost overwhelmed by the sounds of generators humming from most businesses.

Categories
Security

A Rumble in Warri

MEND rebels and hostages, Niger Delta, photo: Dulue Mbachu/ISN Security Watch

This blog is part of a series of contributions documenting time spent in southern Nigeria to attend a conference and gather data for the targeting energy infrastructure (TEI) project.

Monday morning, while sitting in my host office at the Institute for Dispute Resolution (IDR) – a NGO based in Ekpan, Nigeria (a community next to Warri) and headed by Innocent Adjenughure – a thunderous noise caught my attention. I paused as the word bomb came to mind. After all, I was sitting in the heart of the Niger Delta, where up until October 2009 when an amnesty deal was achieved, the resource rich region was wrought with militancy and criminality. The emergence of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a militant umbrella group, in 2005/6 introduced an intensified campaign of violence aimed largely at the country’s oil and gas sector that crippled production by as much as 30 percent.

So I waited and listened. In the absence of emergency sirens or some type of notification, I shrugged, passing it off as an approaching storm.

What I didn’t realize was that nearby the post-amnesty dialogue “Restoring Hope in the Niger Delta”, initiated by the Vanguard Newspaper in Nigeria and sponsored by the federal government and the nine states in the Niger Delta region, was kicking off at the Delta State Government Annex building in Warri. In fact, Innocent and I were scheduled to attend this meeting but mistakenly thought that the program began the following day. So as prominent government officials and stakeholders began to gather just before 11:00, the first of 2 car bombs, planted by MEND and parked on the street outside of the compound, were remotely detonated. Shortly after, the second bomb went off. By noon, participants were fleeing the area in panic, numbers were injured and at least two civilians were reportedly killed.

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Uncategorized

“Okadas” – The Informal Nigerian Subway System

 

This blog post is part of a series of contributions documenting time spent in southern Nigeria to attend a conference and gather data for the targeting energy infrastructure (TEI) project.

Prior to arriving in Nigeria, I heard about ‘Okadas‘ which are 2-wheel and 3-wheel commercial motorcycles found throughout cities in Nigeria. In reading up on domestic travel options I found that Okadas were commonly described in a negative light – often associated with the words “dangerous” and “reckless”. However, as I entered Lagos and saw the densely populated metropolis in action I saw the Okada system first-hand, and overall I couldn’t help but be impressed.

Rather than view this system through a negative prism I saw another expression of African, and in this case Nigerian, societal ingenuity at work despite living in challenging conditions. In a land where the development of strong state institutions is constantly being challenged by corruption, which hinders the reliable delivery of public goods  (decent roads and public transportation), civil society emerges as the engine of service; utilizing creative solutions harvested from below that circumvent the restraints that come from above.

After spending a few days in Lagos, the significant role that Okadas play not only to mass city transit but also as a form of employment to many, mainly young males who operate as drivers became clear to me. Bikes are more affordable and fuel efficient than cars, which is important given that gasoline shortages are an all to common feature in Nigeria. Granted, locals will quickly note how Okada drivers tend to aggressively push through traffic, ignore signs and motorists, and often take chances that can lead to fatal accidents. In fact, looking around one can quickly see that most bikes operate without helmets. Regardless, many admitted to using and benefiting from the service- some more often than others. In one particular conversation, a Nigerian friend told me that while she does not normally use Okadas she revealed that when running late for a meeting she has found herself on the back of a bike, cutting through traffic in the hopes of reaching her destination both quickly and in one piece. I also spoke with a few Okada drivers who shared with me the sense of pride they had in both having wheels to get around and being able to use it as a source of income.