Notes from a debate on CSR and terrorism, what can companies do?

We had a fascinating discussion last night at London Business School at the CSR Meetup London, organised by Martin Summers, who has written some excellent guest blog posts for me, a few of which you can find here and here.

For the topic of this post his most relevant contribution is probably this post on why business should embrace institutional reform.

We spent an hour and a half debating business contributions to combatting terrorism, focusing mainly, but not exclusively, on domestic issues. Our international-oriented discussion covered mainly this recent IKEA announcement on Jordan and the recent work by Paul Collier and Alexander Betts.

My notes which I used as talking points are below. There will be a write up later in the week on the event which I shall add to this post. Here’s my

  • CSR and Terrorism sounds like two separate things but actually companies can play an important role in encouraging social cohesion, which has tremendous benefits, such as in social capital (trust in society and functioning institutions) and providing opportunities that help prevent (mostly) young men from ending up becoming radicalised.
  • I first understood the link when I helped break a story that ran on NewsNight on BBC2 on forced child labour in Uzbekistan and corporate sourcing of Uzbek cotton without any kind of due diligence or traceability.
  • The report I found was by the International Crisis Group and suggested a link between forced labour and islamic radicalisation amongst young Uzbek men.
  • The resulting campaign led eventually to the Uzbek government banning forced, state sponsored child labour in cotton due to NGO, bi-lateral government and company pressure. So companies can play a role in some cases…
  • The World Bank has suggested we need 100 million jobs in the Middle East in the next few years. Mass unemployment or under-employment is clearly a factor in terrorism.
  • Merkel’s suggestion of a “Marshall Plan for Africa” is something companies should take more seriously. In more detail Paul Collier of Oxford University has suggested companies from countries such as Germany could take their expertise to places such as Jordan to help drive vocational training, for example, that leads to job and wealth creation. Jordan has a burgeoning garment industry. How else can they move up the value chain?
  • However, we know most UK terrorists are home grown. Having witnessed the Nice attack and having friends who nearly died that day, I wrote a piece last year suggesting that companies need to place social cohesion and their role within it, in a much more strategic position.
  • Having spent some time a few years ago working on a Youth crime charity in Hackney and Tottenham, I saw first hand how really targeted interventions can make a huge difference in getting disaffected young men (mostly) into the workplace and becoming citizens who make a contribution and feel they have value.
  • So my simple suggestion is that companies should firstly understand they have a major role to play in social cohesion and make it much more strategic in their CSR strategy.
  • There are a number of ways they can do this, including supporting social cohesion encouraging charities, not just Comic Relief or Cancer Research, both of which are well funded. They can also lobby and fund research more directly, on how to improve the overall enabling environment in communities, inner cities and other places where radicalisation happens.
  • The latest trust research published at Davos showed for the first time, trust in brands going up, when it’s going down for most other parties, and so there is a serious opportunity not only to do good, but to do well, to use a cliche, if companies take community cohesion and their role in it, much more seriously.

Further reading:

Long read: It’s time to rethink the role of business in social cohesion and domestic terrorism

Long read: It’s time to rethink the role of business in social cohesion and domestic terrorism