Preventing Violent Extremism: Turning A Threat Into An Opportunity For The Private Sector

The opportunity has arrived for the private sector to play its part and assist in shaping holistic local, national, regional, and global responses to the rise of violent extremism, if for no other reason than the compelling business case.
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Japanese firms, like many from the United Kingdom and United States, are heavily invested in Bangladesh. An estimated 240 Japanese firms currently have a presence there. Bangladesh provides excellent opportunities for investors through numerous incentives such as (years-long) tax holidays, duty free importing of capital machinery, 100 percent foreign ownership and profit repatriation, reinvestment of profit or dividend as FDI, permanent resident or even citizenship upon significant investment, and Export Processing Zones (EPZs) -- amongst others. The range of sectors ripe for investment are diverse: from banking to telecoms, textiles to footwear, and petroleum to infrastructure development.

After the recent terrorist attacks in and around Dhaka, in which seven Japanese aid workers were murdered, Fast Retailing, the Japanese corporate parent of clothing brand Uniqlo, halted (temporarily) all non-essential travel to Bangladesh. Other Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi and Toyota, immediately began revising their security policies for expatriate staff.

The immediate response by corporations to the recent attacks illustrates the private sectors increasing concern over the growth of violent extremism in Bangladesh -- and beyond. From Baghdad to Brussels, in Beirut and Bamako, violent extremism affects every corner of the globe; it puts workers' lives at risk, disrupts supply chains, drains talent pools, and reduces return on investment. It can also decimate local economies, thereby adding to the pool of (unemployed) vulnerable youth at risk of radicalization, throwing many more people below the poverty line, and contributing to the ever-growing refugee crisis.

But the attacks in Bangladesh also highlight the unique role that the private sector has to play in preventing violent extremism. One of the most striking features of the attack on the Dhaka bakery was the profile of the perpetrators -- reportedly young, middle-class, and educated. Radicalization to violent extremist agendas is a growing challenge among this demographic in Bangladesh; and one of the reasons is a lack of suitable job opportunities (additional drivers include a disassociation from traditional values and the sophistication of recruitment methods in some Universities, among others). Understanding this is critical, as the private sector is key to generating jobs, providing apprenticeships, and offering training that respond to both demand from investors and to the needs of young people. Such jobs also allow youth to gain status and assume a positive role in decision-making in their families and community.

Recent initiatives, ranging from two global summits to prevent violent extremism hosted by President Obama, to the UN Action Plan to Prevent Violent Extremism, have called upon the private sector to help prevent violent extremism.

The private sector should not be expected to take on this task alone, nor should they be expected to, (for example) strengthen law enforcement, reduce corruption, or police borders. Instead, corporations should work hand in hand with governments, local authorities, and not-for profit actors as part of a comprehensive response to violent extremism. Collaboration with governments also means that the private sector can leverage the results they create to get governments to address structural factors that create environments where extremist agendas are able to take root and grow.

The opportunity has arrived for the private sector to play its part and assist in shaping holistic local, national, regional, and global responses to the rise of violent extremism, if for no other reason than the compelling business case. There is the potential to partner with national governments, the UN, and other international organizations to bolster the resources, skills, and technical know-how required to combat this threat. In the case of Japanese firms in Bangladesh, both the governments of Bangladesh and Japan are members of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF), a public-private partnership established to support local initiatives to build resilience against violent extremism. GCERF has started to develop joint 'shared-value' initiatives with the private sector to address underlying causes of violent extremism. Rather than respond to the recent attack by scaling down operations or leaving the country, contributing to GCERF could be one way for companies to preserve and expand their investment and market share in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world.

Contributing authors include Amy E. Cunningham, Catherine Fox, and Dr Sadaf Lakhani.

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