Five members of ASIS International were among the signatories last week to a voluntary international code of conduct for private security companies in an initiative to improve oversight and accountability to an industry marred by allegations of human rights abuses.
The 16-page International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers was signed by 58 companies—including industry leaders such as Control Risks, DynCorp, and G4S—in Geneva, Switzerland. The Swiss-facilitated agreement also received strong support from the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom. Companies that signed the code affirmed that they have “a responsibility to respect the human rights of, and fulfill humanitarian responsibilities towards, all those affected by business activities, including personnel, clients, suppliers, shareholders, and the population of the area in which services are provided,” according to the document
“The writing’s been on the wall for a long time for companies to get their act together and act professionally and do the right thing and operate in a safe and responsible manner,” said ASIS member Liam McNulty, director of LSA, who signed the code.
Signatories agreed to ensure that their employees and subcontractors will take reasonable steps to avoid the use of force, treat detainees humanely, and not engage in torture, sexual exploitation, or forced labor. The signing companies also agreed to vet their employees and subcontractors for any behavior in their past that should bar them from carrying weapons, like criminal activity or a dishonorable discharge from the military.
The push for an industry-led code of conduct has been in the making for years, but received a new push after the killing of 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007 by Blackwater private military contractors. Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, was among the signatories in Geneva.
The code puts “security back into the context of society again,” said ASIS member Allan McDougall, owner of Evolutionary Security Management. He believes the code will contribute to the overall professionalization of the industry as well as respect for fundamental human rights.
A member who signed the code but did not want to be named said the code of conduct will assist clients in choosing companies that can demonstrate that they respect human rights and international law. He underlined the need though for robust accountability processes, but noted that many smaller companies may find it difficult to implement the code and its associated governance arrangements because they don’t have the resources.
Though a decision has yet to be made by the code’s initiators and signatories, it may well fall to ASIS International, an ANSI-accredited standards developer, to spearhead the international effort to make the code operational and enforceable.
The association has already taken the lead on developing the ANSI American National Standards for the U.S. Department of Defense. The standards will take the Code of Conduct, which is a good statement of principles, and convert it into a set of standards with auditable criteria and conformity assessment system to put “some teeth” into the code by providing a way to hold companies accountable, says Marc Siegel, the association’s commissioner of the Global Standards Initiative.