The Business Case for Europe’s Refugees

LONDON – In the face of the largest influx of refugees into Europe in decades, the responses and policy proposals from the European Union and its member governments have varied enormously, and the debate has become deeply politicized. International organizations and non-governmental agencies such as the UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee, and religious leaders such as Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, have weighed in as well. But one group’s voice has been conspicuous by its absence: business.

While governments, charities, and donor organizations actively discuss how to share responsibility for refugees on all steps of their journey – from camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey to transit to settlement – European business has been strangely silent. But, at a time when business is more powerful than ever, with multinational corporations stretching around the world, the private sector must work with governments and NGOs to help address the short-term and long-term challenges posed by the massive refugee inflows.

Indeed, industry leaders in all sectors owe it to themselves to be involved from the start. Only by turning the challenges into opportunities can social, political, and economic risks be mitigated.

There has been one notable exception to the pattern of private-sector silence. Just as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been at the political forefront of the migration crisis, the Federation of German Industries (BDI) has been at the business forefront. The BDI has spoken clearly and decisively about the benefits of refugees for business and has proposed changes to Germany’s labor laws and regulations, including fast-tracking the newcomers’ right to work. In order to make business engagement and investment sustainable, the BDI has also sought assurances that migrants who find employment will not be deported.