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Peace Business: Humans and Nature Above Markets and Capital

This book explores how business can be run so as to serve peace, by reducing direct, structural and cultural violence and by meeting basic needs of all humans, building equitable relations and assuring a low ecological footprint.

Jack Santa Barbara, Fred Dubee and Johan Galtung

PEACE BUSINESS – People and Nature Above Markets and Capital

Peace Business: An Overview with Five Perspectives

Peace business (PB) is a way of doing business while also working for peace, not only not for war. “Peace sensitive business”, “peace conscious business”, may be other expressions. We could also talk about “development sensitive business” and “environment sensitive business”, very laudable enterprises as such, and they will both be seen as aspects of peace business. 

Thus, however we conceive of peace, the idea of satisfying basic needs of people everywhere is certainly in it, and that is also a rock bottom basis for anything that can pass as development. Ecological sustainability, Nature’s self-reproduction, is also a part of peace. We want dynamism but no impending collapse, and that is a rock bottom basis for the environment. 

Then business: exchange for a surplus. The unit of business is a company, formal or informal, monetized or non-monetized. The traditional family farm is the most successful company in history. And so was the household, today perhaps less so. And then, third, a giant transaction company: Nature itself.

Companies transact, exchange value, for a surplus. They may offer products, goods and services, and get in return other products, or money, or labor–like the farm. Or the other way round, they may offer products, or money, or labor in return for goods and services, like the household. The medium in which this exchange, deal, takes place is the market where the parties to the transaction meet, in person or indirectly. The terms buyer-seller limits the perspective to monetized transactions, and demand-supply make us forget that they both apply to all parties. Most thinking about business is bilateral; but business is actually very multilateral. So is conflict. And so is peace. 

Peace business is also exchange and market based, but with some modifications. It is also money, but not only money, based. 

Capitalism, however, is another matter. It goes beyond monetization of markets; a very practical innovation so that we can use money in exchange for an enormous range of products. But capitalism puts capital in the driver’s seat, of the company, of business in general, of the whole economy, as the leading means–as factor of production and consumption–and as the leading end–as the goal of the whole exercise: capitalization. 

Peace business puts other goals first: the well-being of all human beings, their peaceful relations, and the environment. 

Why should business also be concerned with peace? Because the present alignment of economic forces in favor of economic growth is too narrow, too misleading, too dangerous and destructive to all parties. Peace business stands for another alignment, in favor of the basic needs of humans and nature in general. No doubt some economic growth is needed, e.g., to provide for those in misery, but not at the expense of insulting the basic needs for survival, wellness, freedom (having options) and identity (a life with meaning), and destroying critical eco-systems. That is violence, and peace is the opposite of violence, satisfying, not insulting basic needs. 

Business is usually concerned with the health of the managers and the workers. Healthy consumers, communities and environment are good for most businesses. But that also applies to peace: few are served by bads and disservices producing illness and violence. Most industries–e.g., tourism, 11% of the world economy compared to 3% for military industries–benefit from peace. But military contractors often have a stronger voice, large and unified, able to hire full-time lobbyists to influence government decisions, unlike the dispersed waiters, taxi-drivers, maids and guides. Business by and large has a vested interest in peace.

Here is a guiding framework for peace business with five perspectives:

  • Culture: focused on basic need satisfaction, dignity, equity, ecological sustainability, and dialogue;
  • Structure: focused on equity and dialogue among all parties, including trading partners; company-oriented, and exchange-oriented;
  • Products: focused on affordable quality products meeting basic needs, and on other products not counteracting this;
  • Nature-Production-Consumption: focused on Nature’s sustained self-reproduction, with diversity and symbiosis;
  • Surplus-Profit: focused on its limits, and on how it is used.

These five perspectives may serve to critique business as it exists, but also, and more importantly, to construct what might be. For peace, watch what happens to the surplus of goods and money, the whole cycle (including wastes), the products, the structure (including the transborder exchange called trade), and the whole business culture. Similar points apply to the peace of families, schools, companies, countries, regions, the UN. By implementing these five perspectives we are not only working for peace, we are peace. Just like democracy, with equality and dialogue, peace is something to be practiced not only in the country but also in the family, at school, in the company, the region, the world, the United Nations. The UN culture can actually be summarized in the three words peace, development, environment; very powerful guiding perspectives. 

3. Ecological and Social Sustainability

3.1 Basic Human Needs

We take as a starting point that economic and business activities should first and foremost serve human needs. We add the criteria that these activities must result in a fair and equitable distribution of benefits, and must be sustainable from an ecological perspective. We accept the many benefits of a market approach to the exchange of goods and services, but do not rely solely on the market’s “invisible hand,” which in practice too often turns out to be an “invisible elbow” for many. Meeting basic human needs (not wants and wishes) is our starting point (Galtung, 1980a). These are universal needs, which are constant across time and cultures. These are the needs that must be fulfilled for a full and satisfying life. There are four broad categories that will be used, which are: 

Basic Human Needs               Opposites

Survival, the right to life Death, extermination

Sufficiency, well-being Poverty, misery, deprivation and chronic hardship

Freedom Repression, exploitation and anomie

Identity Marginalized, denial of self definition, prohibition against self expression 

Note that the opposites of each of these basic needs are a type of violence to the person, denying them the opportunity for a full and fulfilling life. These opposites are also issues over which conflicts arise, conflicts that often lead to more direct types of violence. 

Our notion of peace is that it is characterized not just by the absence of violence of any kind, but that it also includes relationships that satisfy all basic human needs. 

Our notion of peace business is that it involves the production and exchange of goods and services to satisfy these basic needs, these common human aspirations. Such a system is required for sustainability from a social perspective.



TRANSCEND University Press 2010

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