“Todos Pagan”: A Case Study of SMEs and Urban Violence in Medellín, Colombia

November 2023 | Angelika Rettberg, Ben Miller

The business and conflict studies literature has focused predominantly on larger companies. Less is known about small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which face different challenges and choices in contexts marked by conflict and violence. This case study examines some of the factors, relationships, and strategies that explain how and why small and medium-sized companies do or do not survive and grow in settings of urban violence, with a specific focus on Medellín, Colombia. While the international drug trade has dominated accounts of the city’s relationship with violence, this is an incomplete depiction of the many ways in which the city is linked to and has experienced conflict-related and urban violence, and it says little about the strategies and responses adopted by small and medium-sized companies.

In this case study, Angelika Rettberg and Ben Miller provide context by describing the recent history of armed conflict and urban violence in Medellín and the development of the private sector against that background. They then illustrate the many forms of violence and coercion that are intertwined with SME economic activity in the city. They identify several types of company responses to violence and the threat of violence, including acquiescence, avoidance or relocation, and mitigation. Factors shaping the choice of strategy include the scale of the threat and the cost of non-compliance with criminal actors, the protection offered by other companies or business associations, the possibility to re-locate or disinvest, and the nature and depth of relationships with public authorities. These strategies noted above are not mutually exclusive, and SMEs modify them as their circumstances change, reflecting the dynamic context of the city in terms of crime, violence, and their relationships with economic actors.

Read this case study in Spanish.


Send questions or comments to Ben Miller at [email protected].

Click here to learn more about the UrbanSME project.

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