(List # 49) Business (School) and Conflict

How business schools are approaching conflict in the curriculum and on campus.

(List # 49) Business (School) and Conflict
Photo by Sushil Nash / Unsplash

This week’s list is focused on the role of business (and business schools) in conflict.

Are you covering conflict in your curriculum? How are you covering conflict in your curriculum? Is it being approached through a profit/economic lens or/and from a human rights lens including the company’s own responsibility in relation to the conflict?

As you know by now, I have been reading through almost 300 sustainability reports submitted to PRME by business schools. Schools hardly make any mention of conflict in their reports, whether they be those their own countries are involved in or those happening abroad. They also make almost no mention of the important role that the business sector may play in preventing and resolving conflict, but also, it must be said, in not fuelling the conflict in the first place. (BNP Paribas is currently being investigated for war crimes in Sudan for example)

*Thanks to Carolin and David for the idea for this week’s list. If you have a request or idea for a future, please send it through.

1.     CONFLICT CURRICULUM

Business and law students at RMIT in Australia both take a core course on Business and Human Rights. The course includes an online module developed by the Australian Red Cross in collaboration with RMIT, which helps students to be prepared to make effective decisions under pressure and also to ensure that they understand and uphold the fundamental laws of war. The modules are related to armed conflict and humanitarian law as well as one on humanitarian law specifically for energy and extractives companies. RMIT has also published a guide on Doing Responsible Business in Armed Conflict; Risks, Rights and Responsibilities.

2.     HOW COMPANIES REACT TO CONFLICT

“Several factors motivated companies to react, including the legally and financially hostile environment created by international sanctions…however only a very limited number of companies appear to have taken their human rights obligations into account and shown leadership in ensuring their actions avoid unreasonable harm to workers and communities.”  This article outlines how different companies responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Students need to understand that businesses are not neutral actors, even when they don’t take sides in a conflict. A company’s operations impact on conflict dynamics whether they choose to stay or leave. For example, cement company Lafarge maintained its business operations in Syria during the civil war and is currently charged with complicity in international crimes through buying raw material from jihadist groups. When Zara closed its stores, it provided a support package for its 9,000 Russian staff.

+How do you incorporate not just conflict, but also the role of peacekeeping in the curriculum?

3.     CRISIS RESPONSE

The University of Warsaw has put in place several initiatives in order to support Ukrainian students and faculty impacted by the current conflict. This includes exemption from fees associated with living in the student residence halls, financial support and exemption of tuition fees. Current students who help Ukrainian friends and family are given extensions and allowances in terms of class attendance. Psychological support is also provided as well as donations for essential items. Lecturers in Ukrainian are provided by visiting Ukrainian lecturers who are also offered employment. The university supports translations between Ukrainian and Polish, and legal assistance for refugees is provided free of charge. Faculty are conducting research on the reaction of multinationals as the war unfolds. Students have been part of the crisis management team responding to the situation.

4.     MASTERING CRISIS MANAGEMENT

Bifröst University has launched a Master of Crisis Management after extensive consultations with the labour market showing that various authorities throughout the country lacked structured preparedness to respond to crises. The growing need for a more targeted crisis management has encouraged academics to develop knowledge and understanding of the processes in play and how human behaviour is affected when disasters strike, whether that is a natural disaster, economic shock, war, terrorism or epidemics. Crisis management, as an academic field, focuses on prevention and preparedness, on response management, rehabilitation and on extracting learning for future crises situations. The Masters is not only interdisciplinary but engages a number of external organisations from government, local municipalities, and NGOs.

5.     REFUGEE EMPLOYMENT

Finding suitable employment is one of the most critical steps for a refugee when integrating into society. Yet, many refugees end up unemployed or underemployed, often failing to find permanent jobs that match their skill levels. This is unfortunate and avoidable as most refugees bring qualifications and skills to the receiving country. Interestingly, most of the initiatives I found were from Australian schools. For example, Deakin University’s Centre for Refugee Employment, Advocacy, Training & Education (CREATE) runs career clinics to provide people from a refugee background with career advice designed to help them identify career pathways; give them the tools to build their networks as well as assisting in sourcing employment opportunities. ACU is conducting research on refugee workforce integration and has programmes to assist students with refugee backgrounds. Current students can also participate in a programme where they help refugee children with their homework and language skills.

6.     SCHOLARS AT RISK

Since 2019, MCI is also a member of Scholars at Risk (SAR), a network of more than 530 higher education institutions in 42 countries working to protect scholars at risk, prevent attacks on higher education and promote academic freedom. SAR member institutions support persecuted academics and students by offering temporary research and teaching assignments, monitoring and resisting attacks on higher education, and implementing learning initiatives to promote academic freedom.  One of their projects is the Academic Freedom Monitoring Project, focused on developing a greater understanding of the volume and nature of attacks on higher education communities.

7.     RESOURCES ON CONFLICT

The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights guide companies on how to conduct their security operations while respecting human rights. They recently released an Analysis Tool for companies to understand the dynamics of conflict in their area of operations, and to determine the company’s impacts and risks. The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide a good overview of what students should know. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is also an excellent source of information to have students explore and possibly write a piece about. This website gives the locations of all armed conflict as a tool for understanding crisis. The Global Peace Index measures global peacefulness. The Business for Peacewebsite has a number of videos on the topic which are all worth a watch.


THINGS TO CLICK ON

·       OECD released its Global Plastic Outlook report looking at policy scenarios to bend the plastic curve (Global plastic waste is set to almost triple by 2060).

·       Goodyear tyres is looking to make natural rubber from dandelions

·       Sushi as we know it will not survive.

·       The world's largest organism was found right here in Western Australia.

·       University of Sydney is looking for a Research Associate for SDG Integration and Impact.