Corporate Symbolic Reparations in Transitional Justice Contexts. Case Studies from Colombia, Germany and South Africa

What is the involvement of corporations in symbolic reparations (SR) in Colombia, Germany and South Africa?

Project Summary

In times of conflict or authoritarian regimes, a wide range of actors commit or support acts of violence. These can include corporations who command, directly engage in, entice and support, or benefit from violence. Symbolic reparations (SRs) is an umbrella term that describes symbolic acts of repairing harm, such as apologies, acknowledgment, memorialization or commemoration during transitional justice processes. SRs seek to address the intrinsic wrongness of the harm endured by victims and put their needs for recognition, respect, dignity and hope center stage.

Whilst corporations are increasingly important as participants in and supporters of transitional justice, their role in these processes remains under-researched. Neither the transitional justice nor the business ethics and management literatures provide satisfactory answers to the questions of why, when and how both corporations and victims may decide to engage in SR processes or what impact this may have.

This project aims to answer the following questions:

  • When and why do companies, after they have supported, participated in, or benefitted from violent regimes and conflicts, engage in symbolic acts of reparation?
  • How do they engage with victims in this process?
  • Does it matter whether or not companies acknowledge their own wrongdoing?

The project studies the involvement of corporations in SRs in Colombia, South Africa and Germany. We draw on the multi-disciplinary backgrounds of the research team in political science, transitional justice, management and business ethics and adopt a multiple-case study approach. The team will conduct key informant interviews, archival work and document analysis.

The findings will provide policy makers, scholars and practitioners with a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the contributions that corporations can make to transitional justice processes through SRs.

Research Team

Florian Wettstein
University of St. Gallen

Ulrike Lühe
University of Basel

Jordi Vives
Principal Member
University of St. Gallen

Hugo van der Merwe
Principal Member
Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, South Africa

Mbalenhla Matandela
Principal Member
Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, South Africa

Marco Velasques Ruiz
Principal Member
Columbian Special Jurisdiction for Peace JEP, Colombia

Ana Maria Reyes
Associated Member
Boston University

Frank Haldemann
Associated Member
Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights





Policy domains



Colombia, South Africa, Germany

Host Institution