KEEPING THE PEACE

In Colombia, 50 years of conflict have been exchanged for a fragile peace. Businesses in the country are playing an important role in galvanizing the peace process, but it’s not easy,
says Monica de Greiff.
Monica de Greiff
President
Bogota Chamber of Commerce
“We have a growing understanding that, without the conflict, Colombia as a country will have more money for education, infrastructure and the other things that can help them all to grow and develop in new markets.”
MONICA DE GREIFF

There has been armed conflict in the country for 50 years, but now it has to end. That much, most Colombians can agree on. But decades of armed fighting leave great wounds in a society, and many of them do not heal easily.

“People want peace, but they don’t want a peace process that gives a lot of   concessions. They’re scared that the process will allow former combatants to act with impunity,” says Monica de Greiff.

She is former Minister of Justice in Colombia, has a long history in big business in the country and is today President of the Bogota Chamber of Commerce. She sees a great role for business to play in the coming years in consolidating the progress made in the peace talks between the government and the combating factions.

“Colombia is in the middle of peace talks, and in the next 10 years we will have more than 20,000 ex-combatants leaving the remote conflict zones and wanting to become part of society again. Many will come to the capital and will need a second chance to be integrated into society with jobs and education,” she says.

Colombia has seen conflict since the 1960s, with left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and the army fighting mostly in remote rural areas. The conflict escalated in the 1990s, but since around 2002 the level of violence has dropped and a slow and often difficult peace process has taken root. Several factions have laid down their weapons and, since 2012, a more formalized peace process has made significant progress.

Monica de Greiff estimates that about 60 per cent of the population support the peace process, but believes people are wary of giving too many concessions to the former guerrillas. Forty per cent believe that the military should be stronger and end the violence by force.

“In the business community, the split is close to that of the general public,” she says. Perhaps 50/50, with a difference between companies in Bogota and in the more remote areas, where the fighting has been most intense.

“It depends on where you are from. Businesses in conflict areas are scared of hiring ex-combatants, but companies in the capital and bigger cities are eager to help. They are probably scared too, but they want to help,” she says.

They help by offering jobs, education and a chance to lead a normal life. A recent survey of 1,320 businesses in the capital Bogota showed that 53 per cent not only support the peace process but are also willing to hire ex-combatants. This result gives de Greiff great confidence in the role businesses can play in the coming years.

“You must remember that many of the companies have not been in business in peacetime. They don’t know what peace can bring. It’s been difficult, but I believe we have a growing understanding that, without the conflict, Colombia as a country
will have more money for education, infrastructure and the other things that can help them all to grow and develop in new markets,” she says.

The Colombian businesses are not on their own, however. Monica de Greiff has been able to bring them a lot of inspiration from meetings of the UN Global Compact’s Business for Peace network. Experiences from Bangladesh and South Africa, for example, have underscored that ex-combatants should not be given jobs in security or other positions where they again carry weapons.

However, the road ahead does have potholes of considerable size. Most importantly, the ex-combatants are far from the only people who need a second chance. Colombia has more than two million victims of the violence. Not everyone is willing to give ex-combatants a second chance. Many businesses prefer to give victims the opportunity of a job and “this is probably also easier,” concedes de Greiff.

She understands and agrees with the need to help victims regaining their lives. However, that does not remove the need to find solutions for ex-combatants too.

“As a society, we need to do both. Luckily, I think there is a growing understanding that many ex-combatants are also victims, having perhaps been taken from their families when they were 10 or 12 and forced into taking up arms. At the same time, people are starting to understand that it’s better to have them working and being educated instead of taking up the fight again or turning to crime,” says de Greiff.


WHAT’S NEXT?
MEASURING THE IMPACT

Companies that want a more sustainable business practice need to sharpen their measurements and reporting, says Monica de Greiff.

“I believe that in the coming years we will see great improvements in how we measure and report on the actual progress that companies make towards sustainability goals. I feel that we are at the moment too much in a state of talking and sharing best practice, which is good, but we have to become better at measuring the impact of what we do,” says de Greiff.