In his video, Professor Fort is providing his response to reading Sebastian Junger’s book War and accompanying documentary film Restrepo, about the war in Afghanistan drawing reflections on Socrates, Plato, and Frodo, from the Lord of the Rings. He notes that Socrates told a story about a ring that caused invisibility similar to the ring featured in Lord of the Rings. Fort is illustrating his point that people tend to make good ethical decisions when they fear being caught. Invisibility, therefore, eliminates this fear and allows for more freedom to make bad ethical choices. Fort uses this story to explain some of the atrocities witnessed in the film, or essentially what happens to an economy in a security vacuum. Fort draws contrasts between the organizational behavior exhibited in Afghanistan and the role of corporations in promoting peace. Fort uses this reference to introduce the idea that business can promote peace by ensuring three key practices.
In response to the question, one of this activity Fort outlines three business practices that could lead toward peace: investing in economic development with new technology such as software-defined networks, the rule of law, and community development. First, Fort discusses that businesses engaging in economic development by promoting new technology helps to promote peace by giving developing countries with historically poor populations new industries to earn a living in. Supporting this, Fort notes that violence is higher in countries where competition for basic goods is highest. Often people in developing countries will earn money engaging in violent behavior for pay from one side or the other in civil conflict. Therefore, if new businesses diversified the economy the theory holds that there would be less violence. Bringing new technology is key to economic development. When businesses bring diversity and new technology to a developing economy, there are increased opportunities to make a living and violence should go down.
Violence would further go down when business adheres to a basic rule of law. Avoiding corruption, enforcing contracts, and protecting property rights is another way a business can operate that would promote peace. As recounted in Junger’s book, corruption and bribery frustrated the economy promoting distrust, bribery, and conflict. Enforcing the rule of law provides for a dispute resolution system to protect the people as well as the business. Afghanistan is a good example of an economy without a reliable rule of law where the sale of goods is largely based on bribery. Companies should have very strong policies against bribery, to provide a corporate backbone to help eliminate corruption. With economic diversity, new technology, and a strong organizational structure, corporations can model self-governance and a sense of community.
For Fort, the corporate sense of community exists on an external level with a commitment to social responsibility. This means being a good corporate citizen in the community where the business is operating. Internally, it is important that a corporation model self-governance. Each employee should be treated with respect empowered to voice their observations when quality is endangered. This is a form of self-government and somewhat democratic. Democracies have rare instances of violence because each person feels they are self-governed. Studies show that the stronger protection of human rights and gender equality leads to less violence as well. Gender equality promotes peace, studies show less violence when there is workplace equality regarding gender.
Fort’s conclusions are not surprising. Restrepo outlined an economy in chaos wrought with violence, corruption, bribery, and a total lack of security. Fort’s ideas for business activity is complementing what could only partly be accomplished with military presence. The presence of the United States Military in Afghanistan has offered some security but not enough. Military presence alone has not brought economic diversity or new technology for use by Afghan’s. Fort’s solutions regarding the abilities of business when properly structured can foster peace.
In the United States on any given day we do not see abject poverty where people are struggling to feed their families. We enjoy a system of laws, security, and diverse economic opportunity. There’s an opportunity here. What Fort is suggesting makes sense in that if the corporations are structured as he outlined, and supported by a government that can meet the challenges of ensuring the rule of law, they could benefit the countries they were doing business in.
Major weaknesses are the lack of authority for the private corporation and insensitivity of the local customs and heritage. Fort emphasizes the importance of business modeling internal self-government and external sensitivity. The question remains whether a corporation with a profit motive is really equipped to be sensitive.
It’s not a surprise that senior policy officials are supporting this idea. However, in order for it to work, government and business must work very closely together to complement each other's efforts. A private corporation cannot impose the rule of law and absent protection of corporate property rights and would be hesitant to do business in a developing country without some sense of security.