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Businesses confront conflict

| Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Angela Rivas, of the think tank Fundación Ideas Para la Paz (FIP), lectured Tuesday at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies on the role of business in Colombia’s peace process.

In the Kellogg Institute-sponsored lecture titled “When Peacebuilding is Your Business: Strategies for Peace and Peacebuilding in Colombia,” Rivas examined the peace process in Colombia as the conflict between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continues.

Rivas said the damage caused by ongoing violence in Colombia is widespread and rampant.

“More than 10 percent of the population has been directly affected by armed conflict,” Rivas said.

Rivas said since peace talks between the government and FARC became public in 2012, and delegates from both sides have reached tentative agreements on issues as diverse as rural development, participation in politics and drug trafficking. Talks like this offer some hope of ending the bloodshed and destruction, and business can play a crucial part in this process, Rivas said.

“A very diverse group of people, activities and firms including big multinational corporations and small family ventures can lend support,” she said.

Rivas said firms’ interactions with the conflict range from perpetuating it to lessening its impact and even stopping violence.

“However, the majority of businesses are in the middle, simplifying dealing with the conflict,” she said.

Rivas said that the social costs of Colombia’s predicament are far-reaching.

“There is a large lack of job options,” she said “Unemployment is rampant.”

Businesses can hire those whose livelihoods have been decimated by the violence and even former guerrilla fighters to remedy this, Rivas said. Other social programs undertaken by businesses include training unskilled workers and investing in low-income communities.

“What we have found is that there are two primary reasons that companies engage in these initiatives,” Rivas said. “The cost of the conflict is quite expensive, and there is moral or ethical dimension.”

Business should also address human rights concerns as a priority, especially in the areas of security and risk assessments, she said.

“If we can’t have basic conditions of human rights, how can we hope to have peace?” Rivas said.

She said the growth of public-private partnerships is an encouraging prospect, but the efforts of businesses and the government need to be sustained and comprehensive.

“There is no development if there no peace, and there is no peace if there is no development,” Rivas said.

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