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Published: April 22, 2013

‘Human Rights’ often appears in the popular media alongside ‘Health and Safety’, as an evil bringing democracy to its knees. In this arena, the security industry in particular needs to watch its collective step. Too many private security contractors (PSCs) have found to their cost that responsible operating standards in hostile places, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, need to be as high as if they were in UK or USA.

Pilgrims Group takes this issue very seriously and proposes an approach in three tiers:

Tier 1. The starting point is the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), signed by countries rather than companies, with the Principles absorbed into the policy of various national and international institutions. In 2000, the UN set out in its United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) a number of core values expressed within ten Principles in the areas of Human Rights, Labour Standards, the Environment and Anti-corruption; this was directed at a global, cross sector audience. A PSC might well open its own Policy directive by stating that it respects and adheres to the 30 Principles of the UDHR and the ten Principles of the UNGC - and listing them.

Tier 2. Also in 2000 the USA and UK Governments, along with a group of extractive companies and NGOs, published the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR). These are aimed at companies using security providers rather than the providers themselves, with a focus on the global oil and gas industry. However, again, there are Principles that PSCs can refer to in their Policy. The Principles are in three categories, all with further details in each one:

• Risk assessment.
• Relations between extractive companies and public security, e.g. police and military.
• Relations with PSCs hired by companies to protect their facilities and operations.

These Principles guide organisations on security and Human Rights and on their relationships with security providers, including PSCs such as Pilgrims and host nation security organisations such as the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF). To stay with the Afghanistan example, companies like Pilgrims are known there as Risk Management Companies (RMCs). RMCs are mandated to be the quality interface between clients and the APPF. Therefore their Policy needs to be proactive in ensuring the RMC’s clients remain compliant with the Principles, both by the RMC’s own high standards of behaviour and by continually advising the client on how it should itself remain compliant.

Tier 3. The International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC), convened by the Swiss Government in 2010, now has about 600 signatories. The ICoC should find its way into a PSC’s policy as an outcome of the Principles at Tier 1 and 2. By signing, a company affirms its respect of the Human Rights of all those affected by its business activities and its humanitarian responsibilities towards them. Although there is no regulatory regime in place yet to back up the Code (Pilgrims strongly promotes such a regime), as far as a PSC is concerned the ICoC must not become a facade without substance.

An important recent addition is The American National Standards Institute NSI/ASIS PSC.1-2012, ‘Management System for Quality of Private Security Company Operations’. It includes a systems approach for PSCs to deliver assurance of Human Rights. Although there is no certification process directly attached to the standard, it is designed to be auditable in line with quality assurance management systems that are compliant for example with ISO 9001:2008. It is likely that such audits will be mandated for US Government PSC contracts by next year. In the UK, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, has said: ‘Government aims to raise the global standards of PSCs working in complex and high risk environments overseas. We intend to issue an HMG publication specifying that PSC 1-2012 is the standard for (such) UK based PSCs.’


Although taking the right path by always operating according to Human Rights Principles might sometimes lead to short term loss of revenue, in the long run sustainable business can only grow from an ethical approach. The approach should be supported by policy and internal governance and fully communicated to staff, consultants and suppliers.

Note: Article written by Richard Lovell-Knight, Director of Risk and Information Services for Pilgrims Group Limited. The author is not a lawyer or Human Rights expert.