Fuelled by the international drugs trade and with armed groups from both the left and right wings, Colombia's violent conflict has been one of the most prolonged, intractable and deadly in modern times. Since 1994, International Alert has been working to help build peace in the South American nation, with recent work focusing on untapping the peacebuilding potential of the business community.
In Colombia's unstable environment, businesses at all levels have to be sensitive about how their operations can potentially affect the country's security situation. Because understanding between local populations and large footprint industries, such as petroleum and mining, is essential for avoiding conflict, Alert has been helping businesses to adopt conflict-sensitive strategies in their work.
Beginning in 2006, Alert and our partner, Fundación Ideas para la Paz, developed a toolkit designed to help extractive industries minimise the conflict risks of their operations. Companies such as Occidental Petroleum, Cerrejón Coal and the Colombian state oil company have all used our Conflict Sensitive Business Practice (CSBP) methodology to factor human rights and peacebuilding issues into their business plans.
Working with the business community, Alert has been keen to highlight not only the impact that their operations can have on a conflict, but also the impact that the conflict can have on their work. The increased costs often associated with operating within a conflict zone show that conflict-sensitive business practices are not just the 'right thing to do'- they also make good business sense.
Our work with multinationals has now lead to a new effort in 2007 to support Colombia's National Mining and Energy Committee by monitoring the internationally recognised Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights as well as crafting a strategy to engage civil society and community groups in their discussions.
Meanwhile, at the community level, Alert is working with another Colombian partner, Indepaz, to highlight local perspectives on conflict and development. This work includes analysing the international donor community's economic development programmes to ensure they contribute to conflict resolution, human rights and governance.
The complex challenges facing Colombians to tackle the violence within their country will take time and patience to overcome. By working with local partners and various communities, Alert hopes to ensure steps continue to be taken in the right direction towards lasting peace and more inclusive economic development.