American researcher shows that the value of religious freedom can become a competitive asset for Brazil
by Rosenildo Gomes Ferreira, in ISTOÉ Dinheiro, a Leading Brazilian Business Magazine
Translation from Portuguese by Natália Prigol
During their entry into to Mozambique’s mining market, the director of the Brazilian mining company Vale refused to allow the local witchdoctor to bless the sites of their coal exploration. The director’s decision was reversed, according to legend, after a tragic accident that caused the shutdown of one of the mines. Outcome: They called the witchdoctor back and did not have further problems. True or not, this story helps to illustrate an issue that is increasing in importance in the business world – the effect of religious freedom on the economy and in investment decisions around the world.
“Countries where religious tolerance prevails are more prosperous,” says Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. He was recently in São Paulo, where he participated in a Seminar about the theme, which brought together business people and religious leaders of different faiths. His agenda also included a previous visit to Brasilia, where Grim met up with the Vice President Michel Temer. According to the American researcher, Temer was surprised to learn that Brazil ranks at the top among the 25 countries based on Grim’s study about religious freedom, including above China and the United States.
The recent data illustrates that in 2012 U$ 65.2 billion in direct investments entered in the country. “Brazil is an example to the world in this matter and could use this fact to emphasize religious freedom as one more argument to attract foreign investments,” says Grim. The researcher of the Institute on Culture, Religion & World Affairs knows what he’s talking about. The number of investment funds which invest their resources from religious values, are multiplying. One of them, of a Catholic orientation, is managed by Credit Suisse.
The debate on religious freedom and its importance as a component of business decisions has already gained ground in the World Economic Forum and at the United Nations (UN). Through his foundation, Grim collaborates with the United Nations Global Compact Business for Peace platform. In his recent work, “Is Religious Freedom Good for Business?: A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis,” he draws a picture of the impact of the theme on people’s lives. For this, the researcher crosses data from numerous sources that make evident the deleterious effects of radicalism. One example is the use of anti-blasphemy laws to take out market competitors, as has happened in Pakistan.
“This legal provision has been used as an aggressive tool for business subterfuge,” he said. For Grim, although common sense identifies religious freedom as a western value, this component is also present in Middle East and Asia. Examples are Dubai and Singapore, respectively, that do not have abundant natural resources such as oil. “The growth of these countries depends on a strong exchange business, made by people from all over the world,” he says.
His report [with the UN Business for Peace] also shows that many private companies have already put in their strategic plans the issues of religious diversity. Coca-Cola is one of them. To strengthen ties with various Indonesian communities, the soda maker has set up a social partnership with the city of Jakarta to finance collective interfaith marriages. In Thailand, the board of DuPont answered immediately an unusual request made by employees who claimed they would work more reassured if they had a Spirit House built on its factory grounds. “By valuing the religious beliefs of its employees, the company shows respect to each one of them,” he says. “And that’s good for business as it helps to improve morale and the organizational climate.”