Business… with Liberty and Justice for All (Part Two)

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill + Knowlton Strategies, Washington

The world is more peaceful today than it has been since 2009. This is the finding of the 2012 Global Peace Index, released last week by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

As noted in my previous post, with a few unfortunate exceptions (think Syria and Sudan), this annual study of relative peacefulness and stability throughout the world is encouraging. It also reaffirms, for me at least, the role that the private sector can play in democratic development.

Once a company has sufficiently addressed its core sustainability and responsibility fundamentals, true corporate citizens can work with and support other sectors of society in promoting and advancing liberty and justice, the cornerstones of democracy.

If the Arab Spring (the subject of my last post) was about liberty, then the Special Court for Sierra Leone was about justice.

On June 5, just days after the sentencing of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes, my firm organized and sponsored a panel discussion at the National Press Club on the global impact of Taylor’s war crimes conviction.

Taylor was convicted at The Hague on April 26 by the United Nations backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, which unanimously found him guilty on all counts of the indictments against him. On May 30, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by rebel forces during Sierra Leone’s long and devastating civil war. Not since the Nuremburg trials after World War II has a former head of state been convicted of war crimes.

The panel was moderated by Hill + Knowlton Strategies Vice Chairman Frank Mankiewicz and featured special prosecutor Stephen J. Rapp, ambassador-at-large and leader of the Office of Global Criminal Justice at the U.S. Department of State; Richard Downie, deputy director and fellow in the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies; Jonathan Temin, director of the Sudan Program at the U.S. Institute of Peace; and Corinne Dufka, senior researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.

The discussion concluded that a country cannot flourish if its people believe there are two disparate sets of rules being applied. Now that the citizenry truly believes that justice is possible and has been fairly administered, all sectors of Sierra Leone’s society—especially private enterprise—can prosper.  More on the linkages between transitional justice, security and development can be found in the World Bank’s latest World Development Report.

While companies were not permitted to contribute financially to the operations of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, they were able to support it in other ways. My firm provided pro bono strategic counsel, media relations and communications services. Legal and research services were also donated by other firms. No one seems to take issue with whether or not companies should be allowed to provide such in-kind donations to entities like the Special Court, but debate continues as to whether or not corporations should be allowed to provide direct financial support for their operations. Microsoft made what is thought to be one of the first such contributions when it donated $100,000 to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia. I understand the concerns this may raise, but provided the right checks and balances are in place to ensure impartiality, I see no issues in allowing companies to express their support morally, in-kind or financially. Such donations seem like noble expressions of a desire for the stability, development and prosperity that can only come through justice.

As I am reminded every day, there are many dimensions of corporate responsibility. Every company has something to contribute to society, even when it comes to fostering democracy. With the continued involvement and support of the private sector, let’s hope the positive trends reported in this year’s Peace Index continue in the years ahead.

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