Empirical research on private sector companies and their business strategies in fragile and conflict-affected settings (FCASs) has been rare so far. With the aim of identifying the challenges of and motives for conflict-sensitive employment, this Working Paper presents a qualitative study on construction and transport companies in Afghanistan, based on interviews with company owners and employees in 2015 and 2016.
The research reveals that companies do in fact apply a range of employment strategies with conflict-reducing effects out of self-interest. Builders need such strategies for the smooth completion of construction and infrastructure projects, while hauliers seek safe passage on routes through insecure areas of Afghanistan. These companies hire local people and negotiate with elders in communities located around construction sites or, respectively, along transport routes in order inter alia to identify local needs and, where feasible, satisfy them.
The Paper argues that a general policy framework for conflict-sensitive employment is futile under conditions of an FCAS, which are characterized by a high level of state corruption and a variety of local powerholders with different interests and the inclination to extract money from companies operating in areas under their control. These insights point to a dilemma for development agencies in their pursuit of an agenda to create stability by engaging with the private sector. Whereas companies pursuing conflict-sensitive employment strategies may help to stabilize local communities, they also stabilize local power relations. In Afghanistan, this implies co-existence of, and competition between, various powerholders controlling different districts or fighting over their control. Underpinned by microlevel data, the study thus contributes meaningfully to the ongoing debate on the potential role of the private sector in peacebuilding. It places the scope of action and limitations of private sector companies into a realistic perspective.
The Paper concludes that new Afghan and foreign construction and transport companies can learn lessons from experienced companies and apply systematic, locally adjusted conflict-sensitive employment frameworks to upcoming infrastructure projects.