Barriers to Entry: Understanding Labor Market Attitudes Towards Ex-Combatants and How the Private Sector Can Help*

Barreras para entrar: comprensión de las actitudes del mercado laboral frente a los ex-combatientes y cómo el sector privado puede ayudar

Valencia B. Wilson

Barriers to Entry: Understanding Labor Market Attitudes Towards Ex-Combatants and How the Private Sector Can Help*

Papel Político, vol. 27, 2022

Pontificia Universidad Javeriana

Valencia B. Wilson a

Georgetown University, United States

Received: 13 october 2021

Accepted: 24 september 2022

Published: 30 december 2022

Abstract: Objective/Context: After the 2016 Peace Accords with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) in Colombia, civil society began working towards the reintegration of former FARC combatants towards a peaceful coexistence. However, the success of these initiatives remains uncertain for a more inclusive society while reducing risks of rearmament and violence against citizens in a post-conflict environment. Methodology: This research identifies and evaluates aggregated statistics and survey data expressing concerns for and about former combatants, perspectives from Afro-Colombians, and interviews from former combatants that help determine the difficulties and opportunities in access to the labor market. Conclusion: The study finds that a large barrier to successful economic reintegration to the labor market is stigma. Despite these current initiatives, this article seeks to explore if and what barriers continue to exist for former combatants reintegrating into the labor market. Originality: This article provides recommendations that support local organizations doing business in Colombia and provides tailored best practices that ensure meaningful ways to incorporate ex-combatants into the labor market.i

Keywords:Armed Conflict, Stigma, Reintegration, Attitudes, Corporate Social Responsibility, Colombia.

Resumen: Objetivo: después de los Acuerdos de Paz de 2016 entre el gobierno y las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) en Colombia, la sociedad civil comenzó a trabajar para la reintegración de los excombatientes de dicha organización para una convivencia pacífica. Sin embargo, el éxito de estas iniciativas sigue siendo dudoso si se quiere tener una sociedad más inclusiva, que reduzca los riesgos de rearme y de violencia contra los ciudadanos en un entorno de posconflicto. Metodología: a pesar de las iniciativas actuales, esta investigacion busca explorar si hay barreras que continúan existiendo para los excombatientes que se reintegran al mercado laboral. Es así como se plantea que una gran barrera para la reintegración económica exitosa al mercado laboral es el estigma. Esta investigación identifica y evalúa estadísticas agregadas y datos de encuestas que expresan inquietudes por y sobre los excombatientes, junto con entrevistas a excombatientes para ayudar a determinar las dificultades y oportunidades para acceder al mercado laboral. Originalidad: estas recomendaciones buscan apoyar a las organizaciones locales que hacen negocios en Colombia, además de ofrecer mejores prácticas adaptadas y garantizar formas significativas de incorporar a los excombatientes al mercado laboral.

Palabras clave: conflicto armado, estigmatización, reintegración, actitudes, responsabilidad social corporativa, Colombia.

Introduction: Reintegration of Colombia’s former combatants

The 2016 Peace Accords between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) was a landmark achievement. This involved countless negotiations between combatants and victims in order to address the harm caused throughout the decades of long violence in Colombia. Despite the significant achievements and optimism throughout society and the international community, challenges remain with the successful economic reintegration of ex-combatants into the labor market. One of the many barriers former combatants encounter is stigma, especially as they work towards increasing their economic wealth (Denov and Marchard, 2014, p. 2).ii When former combatants initiate their job-search, many admit that societal attitudes are the result of negative characteristics associated with their former status as ex-combatants (McFee, 2016). Existing research shows there are minimal benefits to revealing one’s prior status as a former combatant in Colombia (Rhyn, 2019); potential employers fear former combatants, and in some instances, citizens believe the treatment combatants receive is justified.

To improve attitudes and barriers of armed conflict, the Government must urge prospective employers to remain open and optimistic towards reconciliation. This study analyzes the presence of stigma and correlations with behaviors of the population at large, which will then filter towards potential employers and staffing managers who are tasked with filling positions that are suitable for former combatants. The nature of this study analyzes stigma and correlations with behaviors but, this paper is not intended to perform a comprehensive evaluation of employers and their operational models in Colombia. Rather, it examines the programmatic differences and best practices that recognize and mitigate stigma within the workplace, so organizations are better equipped to grapple with the challenge securing the employment of former combatants.

Brief Background: Colombia’s Armed Conflict, Peace Process, and Stigma

Social and economic inequality gradually eroded the social fabric throughout Colombian society for more than fifty years. The Colombian conflict largely stemmed from the massive social and economic inequality leading to at least 220,000 deaths, more than 5 million people internally displaced because of land seizures and associated violence, leaving more than 8 million Colombian victims (Congressional Research Service, 2019, p. 6). Between 1981 and 2012 alone, there were ‘selective assassinations’ of more than 23,000 people (Congressional Research Service, 2019, p. 6). The origins of the armed conflict involved politicians emphasizing the importance of political participation, yet when ordinary citizens participated by voicing their concerns, they did not receive any benefits from doing so. Policies did not address extreme social and economic inequalities in rural areas, peasants were unable to attain fertile land because it was unequally distributed, and the lack of social services became unbearable. This was the catalyst for violence and a clear and direct response to the government’s inability to help them when they were in need; peasants were disillusioned with the political institutions in Colombia (Karl, 2017). The long-lasting violence and its impact suggest that citizens may harbor negative attitudes towards ex-combatants and prevent them from accessing the labor market today.

The stigma faced by former combatants is not an isolated issue in Colombia. In fact, there is a universal presence of stigma in post-conflict societies, and it is a barrier former combatants face as they begin managing socio-economic aspects of their lives. Stigma increases when ex-combatants seek employment. Communities regularly associate negative characteristics towards ex-combatants, thereby preventing successful reintegration (McFee, 2016, p. 4). Similar to Subedi’s research of former combatants economically reintegrating in Nepal, family members play an important role supporting ex-combatants in helping them overcome stigma and economically reintegrate (Subedi, 2014, p. 244), but societal rejection remains and continues to endanger their safety within ex-combatant communities and future job opportunities (Duthie, 2005, p. 11). In addition to the stigma ex-combatants receive in their communities they also have difficulties accessing important financial services such as credit and loans. Due to the above issues, these existing challenges reintegrating into the labor market warrants more attention because the stigma they face ultimately impacts their ability to coexist with ordinary citizens.

Data/Research Methodology

A qualitative and quantitative mixed-methods approach was used to examine if and what barriers exist for former combatants entering the labor market. I then explore feasible recommendations for large, multi-national companies who seek to employ former combatants, and smaller, local organizations that are dedicated to providing resources that improve employment outcomes for these ex-combatants. The combined qualitative and quantitative data comes from former combatant interviews and national survey data (aggregated statistics) administered primarily by Observatorio de la Democracia at the Universidad de los Andes, in Bogotá, Colombia along with support from Ipsos, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the University of California at Berkeley in 2019.

Qualitative Data: Interviews

The interviews for this capstone provide scholars and professionals alike with an opportunity to understand the perspectives of former combatants and their challenges reintegrating into society after disarmament and demobilization.iii The opportunity to capture sentiments of ex-combatants involved in the reintegration process initially began after my discussion of this graduate school research concept in the summer of 2019 after working in Colombia at La Agencia para la Reincorporación y la Normalización (ARN) with Dr. Javier Cárdenas. The initial topic of stigma was presented, and the crafting of the research and requirements were later gathered for this paper. In July 2020, the opportunity arose to capture sentiments of former combatants through these interviews; the capture, edits, and consolidation of my notes were used as a basis for this study. There were two interview sessions conducted primarily by Dr. Oliver Kaplan from the University of Denver with coordination and support of the ARN staff Catheryne Sepúlveda and Dr. Javier Cárdenas. The two sessions were conducted in Spanish via Zoom for 60 minutes in September 2020. Each interview session contained three former combatants, two women and one man; at least three of the former combatants explicitly addressed current issues they face and previously faced as they reintegrate into the labor market. Throughout the interviews, none of the interviewees revealed their former associations with armed groups.

These interviews complement the national survey data in a way that brings personal sentiments and struggles that are not always visible through responses to a survey or questionnaire regardless of its intent; the interviews are a vital component for the broader narrative of this research. The former combatants that participated in the informal interviews were recruited at different ages and regions throughout Colombia. The personal battles and biases these ex-combatants encounter can be used to highlight recurring problems of stigma and rejection while taking steps to improve and change corporate attitudes as managers evaluate their qualifications.

Quantitative Data: National Survey (Aggregated Statistics)

In addition to the interviews described above, I focus on aggregated national survey statistics that help describe barriers for former combatants. Before I discuss variables and interactions I evaluated, it is critical to note that due to data availability this research is not a comprehensive review of all possible variables affecting reintegration; the research is a focused analysis on nine variables that I find contribute to barriers former combatants face reintegrating into the labor market (Kaplan & Nussio, 2015; Oppenheim & Söderstöm, 2018). The survey was administered to 4,006 participants in 2019, all of whom resided in areas outside of Bogotá (the capital) in order to adequately gauge commonly held sentiments of stigma, access to employment, and community attitudes of former combatants entering the labor force. The highest response rate occurred in Bolívar (483), followed by Cesar, Sucre, Antioquia, and Cauca, whereas the lowest responses were in Casanare (48), Santander, Caldas, and Norte de Santander.

The following section (Section Linear Regression) describes in detail the dependent variable and key independent variables I find most important for this analysis. For the purposes of this study, the observational data measures a variety of indicators and correlations of the employment outcome of former combatants. In this sense, strong correlations between variables presented do not establish a clear cause and effect relationship. Rather, they should be interpreted descriptively - namely, to illustrate factors commonly associated with stigma. Indications that suggest otherwise are to be avoided; these findings should be presented carefully to avoid leading or contributing to additional stigma former combatants currently face.

Linear Regression

Based on the primary research question and the nine variables chosen (Luna-Amador et al., 2017, pp. 12-13), this paper uses the following:

The linear regression shows the dependent variable, where Y demonstrates the attitudes citizens have and whether they would give a former FARC combatant a job. The α or alpha is a constant (or fixed variable). The explanatory variables (or X’s) are Peace, pdet (or Territory Focused Development Plan) (Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial 2021, n.d.), and Male. Peace is used in this model because it not only helps explain whether the interviewee believes in reconciliation with the FARC, it shows a willingness to break down barriers in socio-economic contexts; peace helps remove perceptions of ex-combatants being more than just ‘criminals’ but as human beings (Rhyn, 2019, pp. 200-202; Avoine and Durán 2018, 71). pdet is an area most impacted by the armed conflict; residents in these areas have historically been more exposed to violence, armed robbery, kidnapping, death, massacres, forced disappearances, high rates of extreme poverty, large presence of illegal crops, and extremely low levels of accountability/performance at a local institutional level ( Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial 2021, n.d.).

pdet Map in Colombia.
Figure 1.
pdet Map in Colombia.

Source: Agencia de Renovación del Territorio, Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial (pdet) website.

Gender is a binary variable used in the survey, where the individual is either male or female. The survey adopted number one (1) as an indicator for Male and the omitted category (0) is used for female. I reference the variable Male as a key variable for the content of this analysis and will clearly note the focus of my analysis on men or, in some cases women (the omitted category) to avoid confusion. The controls I use for this model are education, age, and urban. Education which corresponds to the highest level of education attained. Education is a particularly unique variable because research shows that the completion of high school in Colombia may have a particular impact on the political sophistication of a citizen. The likelihood of civic participation will become increasingly higher (Kaplan & Nussio, 2018, p. 13). Furthermore, additional control variables such as age and urban are added based on common associations with the independent variables and the dependent variable (Vinck & Pham, 2009, p. 64). In subsequent models located in the appendix, Victim corresponds to an interviewees repetitious long-term exposure to violence because traumatic events faced by potential employers may have an impact on the likelihood of hiring a former combatant (Vinck & Pham, 2009, pp. 65-66).iv The above variables provide a more robust understanding of the dataset available; they help explain correlations with attitudes towards ex-combatants and, explore whether strong social and community interactions are required for successful economic integration (Luna Amador et al., 2020, pp. 12-13; Kaplan & Nussio, 2018, pp. 12-14).


Limitations were expected after collecting personal interviews and national survey data. While the personal interviews provided personal insight the survey data did not, gathering personal identifiable information (PII) from the interviewees regarding their age and former group affiliation became difficult at the time of the interview. This restricted additional research into other possible age-related barriers ex-combatants face entering into the labor market. Secondly, the survey data uses categorical responses, and the data directs the research to strong associations and correlations. However, it does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship. Finally, in light of the 80 municipalities surveyed across Colombia, this study is not in a position to generate a consistent baseline that groups income (i.e., lower-class or “Estrato 1”, high class “Estrato 7”) and this presented a challenge. The survey allowed participants to select an income range, however it did not group income ranges within official Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadísticas (DANE) status levels. The DANE website states that ‘status levels’ are determined by utility costs per household; analyzing 80 municipal (alcaldía) policies presents a significant hurdle that remained beyond the capacity of this study. Although these limitations exist, future research will have to assess the extent to which age-related barriers and income status levels may establish cause and effect relationships on barriers that ex-combatants confront.


Using OLS to estimate the key regression model (Figure 2), I examine if former combatants face barriers reintegrating into the labor market in Colombia. After this initial analysis, I then explore additional parameters based on the key regression model; the additional models also explore correlations of the output (opportunity) and the explanatory variables (i.e., peace, pdet, gender, etc.). However, these additional models are designed to specifically focus on potential employers that are less likely to hire an ex-combatant and provide them with a job. There were 3,720 observations for this key regression model. National survey respondents were asked to rank their likelihood of employing a former combatant. The original hiring scale ranged from one to ten, with one coinciding with “complete disapproval” and ten as “complete approval”.

Table 1.
Key Regression Model.
Key Regression Model.

Key Regression Model Number of Observations: 3,720 R-squared: 0.0989

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Peace is statistically significant (11.79) after dividing the coefficient (i.e., the effect) by its standard error. The coefficient is equal to at least one point, and holding all other variables constant, opportunity will increase by one due to the importance of peace and reconciliation with the FARC is to survey participants. pdet and Male have a smaller effect on the dependent variable, yet pdet and male are both are statistically significant (3.82 and 6.46, respectively). Figure 2 contains the key regression model for my analysis. Additional regression models in the appendix use an expanded list of relevant variables when evaluating economic reintegration.

While analyzing the impact of the overall scale for opportunity is important for general analysis, additional scrutiny is required to focus on individuals whose negative attitudes have adverse impacts on former combatants. Specifically, when prior links to armed groups may negatively impact private enterprise who may not be able to select competitive candidates based on their skillsets when communicating these results to large and small organizations in Colombia. Ultimately, it prevents these organizations from addressing barriers within their business models for training or coaching needs that their employees need. Based on the additional scrutiny required and desired from private enterprise, I conduct a hypothesis test then measured the effect of gender on opportunity (the dependent variable). This revealed an average response rate for men at 6.4 out of 10 and women at 5.7 out of 10; the average amongst men and women was 6.1 out of 10. After looking at the average score of 6.1, I created new variables. The new variables were two hiring scales that analyzed responses for 1, being the lowest with the maximum of 5 (i.e., Hiring Scale 1), and another with responses from 6 being the lowest to the maximum of 10 (i.e., Hiring Scale 2). Hiring Scale 1 focuses on individuals less likely to hire a former combatant, and is the focus of my analysis and the results below.

Stigma and the labor market: Believing in peace is vital

Several explanatory, socio-economic variables such as peace, male, and pdet strongly correlate to barriers ex-combatants face entering the labor markets while controlling for rural or urban areas and level of education. Overall, the survey revealed that peace is statistically significant when determining whether an employer should give a job to a former combatant. For those that believe in peace and reconciliation, the average approval rating is 6.82 points out of ten; they are more willing (and approve of) hiring former ex-combatants. On the other hand, participants that do not believe in peace and reconciliation with the FARC results in less, with 5.55 points out of 10 and are less likely to approve of former combatants.

Opportunity Overall Hiring Ex-Combatants: Peace and Hiring.
Figure 2.
Opportunity Overall Hiring Ex-Combatants: Peace and Hiring.

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

In addition to the analysis above, I delve deeper into the smaller number (i.e., 5.55) suggesting that participants would not hire a former combatant. I assess the variance of those who do not believe in peace and being less likely to hire a former combatant. In order to perform this analysis, Hiring Scale 1 (Range 1-5) provides additional scrutiny and is based on the conditions of peace among those responses who disapprove hiring former combatants. Similar to the responses overall, Hiring Scale 1 (Range 1-5) also shows peace as statistically significant. Among those who disapprove hiring an ex-combatants, 49% of respondents do not believe in peace. This contrasts with 32% of respondents, in this group, who do believe in peace. It is not surprising that a higher percentage of those who disapprove of hiring an ex-combatant do not believe in peace. When a potential employer does not believe in peace and reconciliation, the stigma against ex-combatants remains, especially for those employers who suffered relatively more in rural areas of Colombia. This is further explained by potential employers’ fear that lingers because they still perceive ex-combatants as dishonest and still connected to crime (Camargo, 2019).

Ideally, hiring managers should refrain from inquiring about previous involvement and only focus on independently evaluating skills. Potential employers play an important role when reviewing applicant qualifications; stigmatizing former combatants decreases the likelihood of them receiving a job offer. In turn, it increases probabilities of failed economic reintegration or worse, returning to an armed group because of lost wages. Ex-combatants clearly state that stigma continues to exist and remains a significant barrier; addressing stigma is a pivotal step towards coexistencev.

Disapprove Hiring Ex-Combatants: Peace and Hiring.
Figure 3.
Disapprove Hiring Ex-Combatants: Peace and Hiring.

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Rejecting peace and reconciliation upholds negative perceptions during the vetting process. Employers recognize certain ‘indicators’ or ‘triggers’ that raise deeply rooted suspicions and overall distrust (Camargo, 2019; Subedi, 2014, p. 245). While employers may be able to recognize ‘indicators’ or ‘triggers’ in other circumstances beyond the reintegration of former combatants such as extreme poverty levels and lacking primary education, the analysis below is grounded upon the empirical analysis, interviews, and literature related to challenges former combatants face re-entering into the labor market. In this sense, employers notice potential candidates’ ties to armed groups and view ‘citizens’ and ‘desmovilizados’ (or ‘reinsertados’) differently (McFee, 2016, pp. 54-55); revealing prior affiliations rarely proves to be beneficial. The ‘conceal or reveal’ decision has serious consequences because it jeopardizes ex-combatants’ personal safety and increases reputational risks (Oppenheim & Söderström, 2018, p. 138). An example of how hiring managers stigmatize ex-combatants is by noticing the formatting of a ‘standard resume’ (Hoja de Vida) and a Hoja Minerva. A Hoja Minerva is a version of a resume used by those seeking technical jobs with little to no educational or work experience. In other words, a Hoja Minerva is for those who do not know the proper structure of a resumevi. Hiring managers who do not believe in peace and are able to easily notice the differences, confirms the fear of stigma and rejection. Despite the differences in opinion of whether men or women suffer more from stigma, there are areas of agreement. Both share their concern of applying for jobs because of the biases and rejection they receivevii. Ultimately, the data shows why remaining anonymous is logical and the best protection measure to combat stigma and secure employment (McFee, 2016, pp. 210-211).

Location Matters, Traumatic Experience

Taken altogether, the survey revealed that on the original scale of giving a former combatant a job, the average value (or less willing) to hire a former combatant is 5.9 points for those who did not live in a pdet area compared to 6.3 points of those who actually live in a pdet area who are more willing to giving a job opportunity to a former combatant. When analyzing the statistical significance of pdet alone, this is not surprising. pdet that encompass areas away from large metropolitan areas (i.e., Bogotá and Medellín), were more impacted by decades of exceedingly high levels of violence from armed groups, and were designated by the government to receive more development funding because of the damage done to these areas.

As mentioned in Section 2.1, pdet is a tool and method to target areas of development suffering because of countless murders, kidnappings, and growth of illicit crops. So, it is hardly surprising that pdet is statistically significant because citizens living in those areas are more sensitive of their proximity socially and professionally with ex-combatants. It follows that they are less likely to hire a former combatant.

Hiring Ex-Combatants: pdet and Hiring.
Figure 4.
Hiring Ex-Combatants: pdet and Hiring.

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

As previously mentioned above in Section 3.1, the analysis of those respondents who are less likely to hire a former combatant with Hiring Scale 1 brings additional perspectives to academia and private enterprise that may be otherwise overlooked. While strong correlations exist between those who disapprove of giving a former combatant a job and residing in a pdet area, my analysis into the disapproval rates suggests an alternative perspective. The data shows among those who disapprove of hiring ex-combatants 44% do not live in pdet areas. This contrasts with the 38% of those who actually live in pdet areas. I control for rural or urban areas and levels of education, yet perceptions still exist among those in larger cities where high levels of perceived violence and trauma are embraced even if their exposure to violence was limited relative to those in rural areas.

Disapprove Hiring Ex-Combatants: pdet and Hiring
Figure 5.
Disapprove Hiring Ex-Combatants: pdet and Hiring

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Some critics may point to the constraints of the administered survey – it excluded large metropolitan areas. Higher disapproval percentages of former combatants by those that do not live in a pdet area may reflect migration patterns and those that had to uproot their lives and move to larger towns and municipalities because of their excessive exposure to violence (Congressional Research Service, 2019, p. 6). However, a better way to understand this explanation is the disconnect between those who actually experienced higher levels of violence for extended periods of time compared to those who perceive violence outside pdet targeted areas. In other words, those who actually suffered the most violence and had a higher percentage of being a victim of an armed group hold reduced levels of stigma when hiring a former combatant. It is true that the data confirms that the disproportionate levels of violence faced in pdet areas, however, some survey participants may have no other option but to provide job opportunities to former combatants or are already accustomed to living and working with those with ties to armed groups regardless of whether they believe in peace and reconciliation with the FARC.

Stigma and the labor market: Afro-Colombian Analysis and Point of View

Barriers entering the labor market from an Afro-Colombian perspective warrants additional discussion. Decades of violence and terror during the armed conflict traumatized citizens, but Afro-Colombian and Indigenous persons were disproportionately impacted because there was no state presence (i.e., Chocó, Nariño, etc.). These areas were abandoned and neglected by the Colombian government (Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, 2013, pp. 268-272). For example, the Afro-Colombian town of Bojayá was the deadliest site of atrocities to date in Colombia (Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, 2013, p. 289). In 2016, the enfoque diferencial initiative focused primarily on Afro-Colombian and Indigenous populations as the country began large peacebuilding initiatives including economic reintegration of former combatants (Bouvier, 2016). Due to the violence suffered by Afro-Colombians, highlighting the racial demographics cannot be omitted from the discussion because of the distinct issues Afro-Colombians encounter (Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, 2013, 289-293). Taking into account the statistical significance of peace, pdet, and male with levels of education and age, ethnicity is an important component, particularly when the State lacks a presence in Afro-Colombian areas; it garners additional insights into those less-likely to hire a former combatant.

Survey of Racial Demographics.
Figure 6.
Survey of Racial Demographics.

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

The survey indicates that roughly 19% self-identify as “Negra” while another 4% identify as “Mulata”. Afrodescendiente and La Negritud in Latin America are viewed differently, and this is also true in Colombia where there are different views of who is considered of ‘Afro’ origin (Vanessa Márquez, interview, March 15 2021). Therefore, taking special care to refrain from placing a US perspective of what ‘blackness’ is or what it is not of the utmost importance. Considering the sensitivity of this issue, I consulted with Afro-Colombian organization leaders to not only discuss the matter, but determine the most appropriate method, understanding cultural identity and sensitivity to the matter. The discussions with local Afro-Colombian organizations revealed that the combination of negra and mulata into an afro-ethnicity dummy variable is acceptable only for the purposes of this research and understanding Afro-Colombian perspectives of those less likely to hire a former combatant.

Afro-Descendant Demographic.
Figure 7.
Afro-Descendant Demographic.

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

An initial analysis of the Afro-descendent population in Regression 5 (See Appendix 5) and the impact of race has on whether participants would provide them with a job is (negatively) statistically significant. Peace, pdet, and male are (positively) statistically significant. In Regression 5, there are 1,231 observations and an R-squared number 0.1056, this speaks to the nature of the responses and subjectivity and correlational nature of the study. Appendix 5 (Regression 5) is similar to Table 1, peace, pdet, and male are statistically significant. But, in this instance not only are men of non-Afro-Colombian origin (positively) statistically significant, but Afro-Colombian men are (negatively) statistically significant. The coefficient is equal to at least one point for peace, and holding all other variables constant, opportunity will increase by one because of its importance. pdet has a small effect on the dependent variable at .59, while male and afroethn each are less than one point. PDET, male, and afroethn have smaller effects on the dependent variable, yet they are all are statistically significant (3.64, 2.86, -2.62 respectively).

The impact of the coefficients on opportunity overall can also be viewed on Figure 9 below, where it displays the coefficient values relative to 0 (i.e., no effect). The attention this research brings to the Afro-Colombian demographic is critical – Afro-Colombians were disproportionately impacted by the armed conflict. This research not only shows excessive violence of the armed conflict, but also aligns with findings on key reports such as Basta Ya! that shows through research and captivating images detailing the suffering Afro-Colombians endured (Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, 2013, pp. 258-357). The importance of providing a job opportunity to a double marginalized group whose areas have been neglected by the state, and who are disproportionately impacted by violence and the armed conflict in Colombia cannot be understated.

Figure 8.

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

At a first glance, ethnicity is not considered statistically significant for Hiring Scale 1, but it does provide valuable insights. For example, participants identifying as Mestiza are more inclined to disapprove of hiring a former combatant whereas Afro-Colombians who have historically been more impacted by violence are not.viii Based on the information above, I used the dummy variable for Afro-Colombian respondents to further explore only those who would be less likely to hire a former combatant in Appendix 9 (see Appendix); the goal is to understand the range of negative perceptions and disapproval. Appendix 9 had 1,249 observations and the R-squared is 0.0892. Similar to the above regressions, this table is low in variance which indicates the subjective nature of the results as previously indicated above. Male, peace, and pdet are all negatively statistically significant (-2.68, -5.63, and -3.71 respectively). Moreover, the coefficients for each of the three variables are less than half of a point which means that their effects are very small and holding all others constant, Hiring Scale 1 will not increase by more than half of a point.

Figure 9.

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Even more, the survey data revealed that 22% of those participants belonged to the afro-ethnicity group; it is consistent with the analysis in Section 3.2 of those most removed from the violence being more inclined to harbor more negative feelings of the armed conflict. Upon a closer look into the data, it reveals the marginal impacts of negative attitudes to only calculate the afro-ethnicity population against those who are not.

Table 2.
Regression 10 Number of Observations: 1,249
Regression 10 Number of Observations: 1,249

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

This is even more interesting; negative perceptions among Afro-Colombian men and Afro-Colombian women who are less likely hire former combatants within the Hiring Scale 1 are not statistically significant but, Afro-Colombian men and women are 5.2% more likely to disapprove of working with former combatants. Boys and men are frequently recruited while many women were left behind to care for children in towns ravaged by violence. Therefore, this helps explain why women are less apprehensive to hiring a former combatant; women are frequently the nexus of armed conflict and are critical facilitators when rebuilding communities. We are unable to generalize the experiences of women because the conflict impacted women and girls differently across age and ethnicity (Bouvier, 2016, pp. 25-27)ix. In the Colombian context, peace process invited women to sit at the negotiation table to have their concerns heard. What appears to be a higher percentage of disapproval of ex-combatants by Afro-Colombian men is understandable even if this is not statistically significant. These diverse perspectives are important to truly understand the complexity of race, violence, and the armed conflict particularly for those large and small organizations working towards implementing economic reintegration measures towards peaceful coexistence throughout society.

Recommendations for Private Enterprise

Private enterprise which includes key relationships between large conglomerates with more than 2,000 employees and small, local civic societies can play a major role towards minimizing barriers for former combatants re-entering the labor market. They must not only willingly employ demobilized combatants that are unskilled, but believe in the goal of coexistence (Thorsell, 2013, p. 183). The Government narrative is that bringing former combatants out of the shadows and being legal contributors to society is beneficial for all. There should be increased efforts ensuring that the burden sharing responsibility is upon not only the government but the private sector as well. Sharing positive messages of reconciliation towards communities and demonstrating how ex-combatants can change their lives and use their hands for more than violence and death is important. What is most important in the burden-sharing responsibilities is the close collaboration with key government actors such as the Colombian Reintegration Agency, along with Ministries of Defense, Education, Justice, Information Technology and Communication. To succeed both must be aligned towards shared goals. Achieving common goals diminishes the over-reliance on informal economies despite the increasingly high numbers of low-skilled ex-combatants, and the State should leverage attractive incentives such as tax exemptions to help with long-term economic reintegration strategies.

Large Conglomerates: Promote Within, Build Within

Through close collaboration, clear and feasible outcomes, and accountability based on these outcomes large corporations should secure an independent third party to gather and evaluate existing hiring metrics from managers across all plant operations. After evaluating recruiting and retention metrics, hiring directors will be able to gather managers that demonstrate their belief in peace and reconciliation based on the available data – which also aligns with internal and external missions and visions. Exhibiting good behaviors and refraining from stigmatizing and rejecting former combatants can be an opportunity to promote their insight and help guide Leadership towards ways that reduce stigma in the workplace and those who appear less likely to hire ex-combatants (Rhyn, 2019, p. 198).

Beyond recognizing hiring managers for maintaining good metrics and reducing barriers and fears ex-combatants have, additional monetary or non-monetary incentives helps recognize hiring managers’ contribution. A monetary reward can take form in a bonus payment for good behaviors, or a salary increase that exceeds expected annual performance percentages. A non-monetary incentive is also useful for those private enterprises that have the capacity and resources for “employee spotlights” and recognition through an email listserv, preferred parking spaces closer to company buildings where feasible, or ‘flex-time’ during peak and non-peak periods that reward employees by leaving their jobs earlier than their typically scheduled times and still receive a full payment for each day. It is important that private enterprises coordinate these monetary and non-monetary rewards with their hiring managers based on their unique family and financial obligations so that they are able to use the benefit as it is intendedx. Rewarding them for resisting and placing stigma onto former combatants is also beneficial when the same managers are able to convey their rationale for doing so.

The value these managers bring can be a “guiding light”, offer in-the-moment feedback, and alternative perspectives for those who are less likely to hire and hold negative attitudes towards ex-combatants. Those who are less likely to hire former combatants run the risk of decreased increase earnings (in the sense of the time it takes to find other talent in the same rural regions) and even more, not align with the mission and vision of the company in Colombia. This allows positive interaction within the workforce, provides opportunities and corrective actions to those who do stigmatize and reject former combatants as potential employees.

Large Conglomerates: Stronger Communications Strategy & Hoja de Vida Workshops

Another way large conglomerates can reduce barriers ex-combatants face is to offer formal workshops on the same weeks of each year. This way the communications are distributed far in advance for those who must travel for long periods of time, or for those that must plan based on their obligations. These Hoja de Vida workshops not only allow ex-combatants to participate but ideally, allow those who successfully reintegrated into the labor market to speak directly with prospective applicants. These workshops are especially important when large conglomerates coordinate workshops with Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje (SENA) in pdet areas; the outreach must have the capacity to reach the most remote locations. Additionally, large conglomerates also face hiring constraints because of the COVID-19 pandemic with varying regional quarantine levels and social distancing measures, both entities cannot be disjointed with their efforts, or they will surely be unable to target the most remote communities – this minimizes the existing hiring pool.

Large conglomerates must recognize that a company-wide change management approach for acknowledging harmful experiences of ordinary citizens with time and patience while working on reducing the stigma after seeing the ‘signs’ of a Hoja Minerva. Private enterprises may also offer former combatants personalized feedback and tools to tailor their resumes to become even more competitive even amongst those that do not have a large skillset. The workshops add valuable insight to ex-combatants who are looking for jobs because it allows those who have successfully reintegrated into the labor force an opportunity to provide these best practices to other ex-combatants.

Small Organizations. Each One, Reach One

Small, local organizations are often burdened with ensuring that overlooked communities are receiving the attention they need in order to re-integrate into society and flourish. The local organizations are encouraged when ex-combatants not only successfully reintegrate to the labor market but when they build better relationships with future colleagues; they have the opportunity to dispel false perceptions and minimize hindrances that stem from these perceptions. Small organizations having an established Change Management Strategy can rely upon chosen advocates to explain the process of creating a resume and its necessary components while having a detailed Communications Strategy ensures small, local organizations uplift their success and opportunities with government actors especially in pdet areas.

Ultimately, the guidance small, local organizations provide in conjunction with advocates and work towards reducing these barriers of stigma when potential red flags, such as an unstructured resume triggers future employers. While large conglomerates work with key government actors from utilizing a ‘top-down’ approach, small, local organizations leverage the ‘bottom-up’ approach in a combined effort to address hiring managers who maintain negative attitudes towards former combatants.

Business Photograph Day

Based on the interviews, the former combatants revealed that lacking a ‘professional’ photo exacerbated the stigma they receive when looking to reintegrate into the labor market. It is common that former combatants have a photograph of themselves in front of areas not suitable for the business environment (i.e., in front of laundry, in a bedroom, etc.), and they are unaware of the proper place to take a photo. Unfortunately, it sends additional triggers and warning to hiring managers that they are former combatants. Understanding that some former combatants may not have the means to take photos in an environment with a blank background or are unaware, or both. A Día Perfil can increase their visibility with employers while reducing flags; local organizations can provide additional measures to help these individuals to have one photo in business attire so that they are able to minimize stigma and rejection upon an employer reviewing their qualifications. This strategy is most useful with the collaboration of a network of small, local organizations that can act as a meeting point throughout the pdet area and later, throughout larger regions in Colombia. A united project and communications strategy of Día Perfil will help ex-combatants combat negative perceptions and attitudes towards them, and will help reduce initial barriers of reintegration into the labor market.


In Colombia, the 2016 Peace Accords between the government and the FARC was the focal point for citizens because of the possibilities of peace and reconciliation to help bring society together once more. However, after the signing of the accord, the landmark achievement remained elusive because former-combatants were facing barriers reintegrating into the labor market. The transformation of Colombian society remains difficult based on survey results and interviews assessing the attitudes and perceptions towards former combatants. Economic reintegration is a process that requires not only the hard work of former combatants but also a belief of peace and reconciliation amongst citizens. Barriers ex-combatants face re-integrating into the labor market include the stigma from ordinary citizens, and it continues to be a challenge in Colombia.

This paper also concludes that careful attention is required not only towards hiring managers at large conglomerates that are suitable for work former combatants find appealing, but also small, local organizations, as well. These findings allow feasible recommendations that support the collaboration between large conglomerates and small organizations. Combined efforts for workshops crafting resumes to reduce stigma regardless of the levels of experience and education helps reduce these barriers. Additionally, the government along with private sector must equally share the burden. The Colombian government must provide better incentives (e.g., tax incentives) to businesses and future employers and helps prevent an over-reliance on the informal economy to employ former combatants. Despite the challenges former combatants face finding future job opportunities, seamless collaboration promotes adjusting attitudes and helps break down employment barriers. Above all by implementing the recommendations above, it adds value by providing meaningful ways large and small organizations can contribute towards uplifting ex-combatants working towards building stability and economic success in Colombia.

Regression Models

Main Model: Key Regression Model Summary Statistics


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Appendix 1.
Key Regression Model Summary Statistics. Regression Model Summary Statistics with Opportunity Overall.
Key Regression Model Summary Statistics. Regression Model Summary Statistics with Opportunity Overall.

Key Regression Model Number of Observations: 3,720 R-squared 0.0989

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Appendix 2:
Regression Model Summary Statistics with Opportunity Overall. Regression Model Summary Statistics.
Regression Model Summary Statistics with Opportunity Overall. Regression Model Summary Statistics.

Appendix 2 Regression 2 Number of Observations: 1,156 R-squared 0.2368

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Appendix 3.
Regression Model Summary Statistics (Opportunity Overall). Regression Model Summary Statistics.
Regression Model Summary Statistics (Opportunity Overall). Regression Model Summary Statistics.

Appendix 3 Regression 3 Number of Observations: 1,199 R-squared: 0.2206

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Appendix 4.
Regression Model Summary Statistics (Opportunity Overall). Regression Model Summary Statistics.
Regression Model Summary Statistics (Opportunity Overall). Regression Model Summary Statistics.

Appendix 4 Regression 4 Number of Observations: 1,188 R-squared: 0.1257

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Appendix 5.
Regression Model Summary Statistics (Opportunity Overall). Regression Model Summary Statistics (Hiring Scale 1).
Regression Model Summary Statistics (Opportunity Overall). Regression Model Summary Statistics (Hiring Scale 1).

Appendix 5 Regression 5 Number of Observations: 1,231 R-squared: 0.1056

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Appendix 6.
Regression Model Summary Statistics (Hiring Scale 1). Regression Model Summary Statistics.
Regression Model Summary Statistics (Hiring Scale 1). Regression Model Summary Statistics.

Appendix 6 Regression 6 Number of Observations: 1,168 R-squared: 0.1871

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Appendix 7.
Regression Model Summary Statistics (Hiring Scale 1). Regression Model Summary Statistics.
Regression Model Summary Statistics (Hiring Scale 1). Regression Model Summary Statistics.

Appendix 7 Regression 7 Number of Observations: 1,213 R-squared: 0.1767

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Appendix 8.
Regression Model Summary Statistics (Hiring Scale 1). Regression Model Summary Statistics.
Regression Model Summary Statistics (Hiring Scale 1). Regression Model Summary Statistics.

Appendix 8 Regression 8 Number of Observations: 1,203 R-squared: 0.1019

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Appendix 9.
Regression Model Summary Statistics. Margins Data from Afro-Colombian Model.
Regression Model Summary Statistics. Margins Data from Afro-Colombian Model.

Appendix 9 Regression 9 Number of Observations: 1,249 R-squared: 0.0892

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Appendix 10.
Margins Data from Afro-Colombian Model. Regression Model Summary Statistics.
Margins Data from Afro-Colombian Model. Regression Model Summary Statistics.

Appendix 10 Regression 10 Number of Observations: 1,249

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Appendix 11.
Regression Model Summary Statistics. Margins Data from Afro-Colombian Model.
Regression Model Summary Statistics. Margins Data from Afro-Colombian Model.

Appendix 11 Regression 11 Number of Observations: 1,249 R-squared: 0.0890

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

Appendix 12.
Margins Data from Afro-Colombian Model.
Margins Data from Afro-Colombian Model.

Appendix 12 Regression 12 Number of Observations: 1,249

Source: All graphs and tables are the authors calculations based on data from the Observatorio de la Democracia.

List of Variable

  1. Opportunity: At the job or place where you work would you give a job to a demobilized person of the FARC? To what point would you approve or disapprove of the situation?

      • Values: 1 - 10

  2. Gender: [1] Male or [2] Female. Recoded [2] Female to [0] Female

  3. Peace: Do you see (or believe it is possible) of forgiveness and reconciliation of demobilized FARC ex-combatants.

      • Values: [1] Yes [2] No

  4. Victim: Speaking of the place/neighborhood where you live, and thinking about the possibility of being the victim of an attack or action by an armed group, do you feel very safe, somewhat safe, somewhat unsafe or very insecure?

      • Values: [1] Very safe [2] Somewhat safe [3] Somewhat unsafe [4] Very unsafe. Recoded in analysis as : [1] and [2] =1 and [3] and [4] =0

  5. pdet: Do you belong to a Planes de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial (pdet) program?

      • Values [1]Yes [2] No.

  6. UR. [ESTRATER]:

      • Values: [1] Urban [2] Rural

  7. Ethnicity: Do you consider yourself as a white person, mestiza (mixed), indigenous, black, mulata or other? If the person interviewed as Afro-Colombian code as 4[black]

      • Values: [1] Blanca [2] Mestiza [3] Indígena [4] Negra [5] Mulata [7)] Otra

  8. Afro Colombian Ethnicity:

      • Values: [4] Negra and [5] Mulata combined as AfroEthnicity

  9. Forcedtoflee: For reasons of the conflict did any member of your family have to leave the country?

      • Values [1] Yes [2] No

  10. Excombneighbors: Thinking of the demobilized members of the armed groups, please tell me if having demobilized ex-combatants of the armed groups as a neighbor?

      • Values [1] I do not want them as neighbors [2] I have no problem having them as neighbors


* Artículo de investigación científica.

i This research is a result of a two-year long investigation for a capstone project in order to obtain the Master of Arts degree from the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, in Washington D.C.

ii “Stigma” is a natural human characteristic that “...discredits and reduces an otherwise whole human being [to someone who is] not quite normal [because of the] badges of demerit they wear in each social context” according to Denov and Marchard, 2014, 2.

iii Second-Generation Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs and theory have a primary focus on community initiatives targeted to mend broken societies.

iv Comparatively, studies in Northern Uganda show long-term violence broken into four distinct categories of violent traumatic events that were assessed on survey respondents and was important for determining the impact of peacebuilding and displacement in Northern Uganda.

v All interviews were confidential; the names of the interviewees are withheld by mutual agreement. Interview with former combatants, September 3, 2020.

vi A Hoja Minerva may list the individuals name and bullet points summarizing their experience in no particular order. It can be inferred that those who have at least a high school education are aware of how to properly structure a resume; the interview with the former combatants confirm they do not complete high school. In addition to the Hoja Minerva, place of birth, naming convention and other ‘triggers’, employers then display negative attitudes as the increasingly form their suspicions about prospective applicants ties to an armed group.

vii In some instances, consistency in employment does help reduce levels of fear from ex-combatants and bias from employers.

viii Mestiza are those who self-identify as having a mixture of European and Indigenous ancestry. For more details on hiring correlations for ethnicity see Appendix (Appendix 6).

ix Dr. Bouvier analyzed the contributions of Colombian women and argues that without large numbers of women that represent the harm caused by the decades long conflict, peacebuilding and reconciliation will remain difficult for victims.

x These benefits should include planning and thought to avoid situations where employees are provided non-monetary benefits, yet are unable to enjoy them at their residence due to scheduling transportation or relying on another individual to physically leave the workspace. Careful consideration should include the group (or individual) the employee commutes to his office so the employee may enjoy the benefits of their good behavior.

Author notes

a Autor de correspondencia. Correo electrónico:

Additional information

Cómo citar este artículo: Wilson, V. (2022). Barriers to Entry: Understanding Labor Market Attitudes Towards Ex-Combatants and How the Private Sector Can Help. Papel Político 27.