Why Standing for Religious Freedom Around the World is Good for Business and the Global Economy

Brian J. Grim (Credit: Youtube)
Brian J. Grim (Credit: Youtube)

After leading Pew Research Center’s work on global religious restrictions for nearly eight years, Brian J. Grim left Pew in early February to launch the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. Why the switch? The stats man noticed a correlation. Where religious freedom is restricted, jobs and economic growth often are too.

Pew’s latest report in January showed that 5.3 billion people—76 percent of the world’s population—live under harsh religious restrictions. Grim is now working to convince businesses and governments that they can help bring that number down while bringing revenue up.

Fresh off a trip to Brazil where he launched the new foundation, Grim discussed the state of religious restrictions in several key countries and described why businesses should care about religious freedom. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Brian Pellot: What motivated you to leave the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and establish the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation earlier this month?

Brian J. Grim: For the past decade I’ve been measuring the rising tide of restrictions on religious freedom around the world. I’m always asked where the success stories are and what can be done to roll back the tide. As a data person, I saw that the business and sports communities were missing from the religious freedom field. I know how much religious freedom helps economic progress and how much it suffers without. That’s one of the reasons I launched the foundation.

BP: More NGOs and governments seem to be paying attention to religious freedom issues. Why do you think that is? Is the same trend true in the business community?

BG: I think there are two things at play. First there’s definitely been an increase in religious restrictions and hostilities around the world. Secondly there’s more data out there documenting these restrictions and examining motivations behind them.

The world is filled with diverse people that look at things with different glasses depending on their interests. But religious restrictions and hostilities have an impact on all spheres of life. They impact human rights, economies and national security. Business people don’t usually discuss religion and business in the same sentence. But it’s one of the biggest problems facing economies.

Under Pakistan’s blasphemy law you can be put to death for suggesting something derogatory toward the divine. There have been cases of one business accusing another of blasphemy to undermine its rival. In Egypt, the struggle between Islamists, non-Islamists and religious minorities is driving away tourists, businesses and foreign investors, which hurts the economy.

A Turkish business leader told me that half of the country’s women wear headscarves, but only a fraction of them have jobs. They don’t get hired because it’s perceived as being bad for business. They’re cutting half of the labor market out of the picture. Once people see these connections, I think they’ll start to see how religious freedom benefits businesses.

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Religion News Service