Corporate responsibility and the social behaviour of transnational business towards vulnerable individuals have become a significant part of the global governance agenda, yet an emphasis on self-regulation and the proliferation of different voluntary codes of conduct have produced disappointing results. At the same time there is a lack of systematic effort to engage transnational companies (TNCs) in comprehensive approaches to conflict and securing successful transitions to peace. The article argues for a back-to-basics step of re-examining the complex roles companies play in conflict-affected societies and proposes a human security perspective to address gaps in the current conceptualisation of corporate responsibility and to develop policy which constrains and conscripts corporate power more effectively in fragile environments. The article draws on two case studies of international business in conflict-affected areas to illustrate how a human security approach might indicate new avenues for policy making.

Policy Implications

  •  A commitment should be made by the UN and the EU to involve business in their initiatives at both strategic and tactical levels to ensure that conflict resolution programmes are not unwittingly undermined by TNCs.
  •  A multi-actor forum should be created involving the UN Special Representative, states, civil society and TNCs to extend the Ruggie agenda, monitor and advise on specific cases of conflict and transition, from a human security perspective.
  •  To address the lack of awareness by companies of the impact of their activities, training in conflict sensitivity, human rights and human security should be developed for senior management as well as operatives on the ground. To enhance comprehensive and multilateral approaches, TNCs should be trained alongside other civilian and military actors in conflict zones.
  •  Ethical and human rights audits of companies should be expanded to include human security principles in conflict zones.
  •  Programmes should be developed to help local community awareness of TNC behaviour and assist them cognitively as well as financially and legally in holding TNCs to account.