When employees travel, they face a range of risks—from the common pickpocket to the rare terrorist attack. For companies, the risk is doubled. Not only does management have to worry about harm or loss of life coming to a colleague, with the attendant personal and professional ramifications, but decision makers also expose their firms to liability if an employee is hurt or killed abroad. To address these issues, companies need to assess the threats and have a program that gives employees the security training and support they need to mitigate the risks.
Terrorism and civil unrest were listed as the top concern by 44 percent of corporate security and risk professionals responding to a poll conducted jointly by International SOS and Control Risks, followed by natural disasters, petty theft and crime, and kidnap and ransom.
An analysis of a decade’s worth of jihadist communications shows that companies are right to worry about terrorist attacks. The study, conducted by Dr. Gabriel Weimann, a professor of communications at Haifa University in Israel and a senior advisor to Bethesda, Maryland’s SITE Intelligence Group, found that al Qaeda and its jihadist sympathizers increasingly choose private business targets that cause economic harm to the West, especially the United States. The primary targets of this “econo-jihad,” says Weimann, are “oil facilities, infrastructure, transportation, tourism, and financial institutions.” Lashkar-e-Taiba’s terrorist assault on Mumbai was one recent example.
The biggest problems arise when employees travel to relatively stable but high-risk countries where business travelers can be lulled into a false sense of comfort and security. In this context, security professionals mention countries like Indonesia, Russia, and Saudi Arabia while alluding to larger regions like the Middle East and North Africa. More surprising is that they also name Australia and Canada as risky locations.
While Australia has not seen an attack on its soil, the country’s strong support for the U.S. fight against al Qaeda made its citizens targets abroad in the 2002 Bali bombings. And Chris Heffelfinger, a terrorism analyst for U.S. security consulting firm iJet, believes jihadists could strike Down Under soon.
In addition to its support for the United States, Australia, like the United Kingdom, has a large but poorly integrated Muslim immigrant population. “That’s a place where you have actual, physical radicalization taking place in very segregated, almost ghettoized communities,” Heffelfinger notes. The threat is more than theoretical. Australian authorities have already uncovered and disrupted several active plots, he says.
While most companies protect their employees during travel because it’s the right thing to do, they also bear legal responsibilities. Most Western countries—Australia, Canada, Western Europe, and the United States—have what are called “duty of care” laws, notes International SOS. Under the concept of duty of care, a 2009 report from International SOS explains, “[e]mployers are expected to take practical steps to safeguard their employees against any reasonably foreseeable dangers in the workplace.”
Naturally, meeting that responsibility gets more difficult when the workplace is not in a company’s home country. Having a travel risk management policy can help companies meet their legal obligations in these remote work areas. Those that don’t have a policy should take duty of care as one more reason why they need one, says Will Geddes, managing director for the U.K. firm International Corporate Protection, a corporate security service provider.