Should Sweden close the door completely to dictatorships?

Should Sweden really cut ties completely with dictatorships or try to influence them in a democratic direction? Even in a dictatorship like Azerbaijan, Swedish corporate collaborations can be a good way to open up to dialogue and then a seed for change, writes political scientist Daniel Rosell in a response to a debate article in Göteborgs-Posten.

In mid-November, the Foreign Ministry made a criticized delegation trip to Azerbaijan. Louise Brown from Transparency International Sweden writes in Göteborgs-Posten on 1 December: “The initiative for the trip can only be seen as unfortunate and falls on two unreasonableness. Either the Azerbaijani companies and the leadership are not known to be strongly associated with corruption and human rights violations. Or, you know it well, but still believe that the company matching is suitable from all perspectives. Even the ethical. Choose yourself."

Azerbaijan is a complex context to navigate through with major challenges in the form of major corruption and systematic human rights violations. The delegation certainly had the knowledge of this. There are also few who would oppose the image of Azerbaijan as a repressive state that does not respect human rights. Thus, the writer completely ignores two more logical and realistic alternatives that the delegation was most likely faced with:

  1. To cut the "ties" completely and not have any forms of contact with Azeri authorities or with state-owned companies.
  2. To actually try to have some forms of relationships and thus an entrance and opportunity for dialogue.

Can sow a seed of progress

The delegation trip to Azerbaijan is not a unique initiative. It is not uncommon for Business Sweden, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Swedish companies to go on delegation trips to non-democratic countries to explore opportunities to promote Swedish trade abroad, which may also be considered the main goal of the trip. Delegation trips like this can also open up for in-depth bilateral relations and the opportunity for dialogue. A prerequisite for dialogue with the Azerbaijani regime (read President Aliyev) on human rights is to arouse the regime's attention and even if this possibility can be seen as extremely limited, a similar initiative as the Swedish delegation can be a seed for long-term progress.

Development of the private sector has also proved to be an effective instrument for creating more jobs, economic growth, democratic governance and, for example, for raising CSR issues, which aim for companies to take social responsibility from an economic, social and environmental perspective. . Now the delegation trip was admittedly about corporate matching, but the same logic works really well. However, the relations and the initiative are a gamble, but given that it is played right and Sweden actually strives to promote the conditions for a dialogue and hearing, the outcome can actually be a plus sum game for both parties in the long run.

However, several Swedish high-profile cases show that it is a difficult-to-navigate context for Swedish companies. One example is "The Bombadier Tangle" where the Swedish technology company is suspected of having used bribes to modernize the railway in Azerbaijan. Another example is Telia Soneras bribery where the company was accused of both providing Central Asian dictatorships with surveillance systems and paying billions in bribes.

Agenda 2030 can be helpful

Here, Agenda 2030 and the global goals can act as a catalyst for sustainable development. This is because Azerbaijan is one of 193 states that have signed this global commitment, which aims, for example, to realize human rights for all people around the world. Sustainable consumption and production (main objective 12) and to encourage companies, in particular large and multinational companies, to introduce sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle (sub-objective 12.6) is something that should be particularly emphasized.

Azerbaijan is to a large extent an oil-dependent state, thus company matching could take place with Swedish companies that work solution-oriented with alternative fuels. Such a match could, for example, contribute to sustainable energy for all (main goal 7) as well as marine and marine resources (main goal 14). These are just a few examples that would be appropriate to highlight in a possible dialogue. Agenda 2030 is comprehensive and also highlights reduced inequality (main goal 10) and anti-corruption work (sub-goal 16.5).

It is not only states, civil society, donors and other international institutions that must take responsibility for global development - but also business. If the business community does not possess the necessary competence to operate sustainably and rights-based, it is an excellent opportunity to, for example, bring in consultants to disseminate knowledge or promote innovative partnerships between business and public activities.

The question then is which alternative can best contribute to a positive change for the people of Azerbaijan - to actually close the door completely or at least keep it ajar? Sweden is and has been a great humanitarian power historically and should continue to be at the forefront of promoting democracy and human rights globally, but without legitimizing dictatorships that do not respect human rights. This is best done by keeping the door ajar for a possible dialogue.

Daniel Rosell

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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