Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Ethics code is proposed for security companies

February 2009

An outline of a proposed international code of conduct for private military and security companies has been produced by an influential Swiss think tank.

The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces says its document could become the basis of a globally recognized code that companies would voluntarily follow.

It suggests signatories could be required to report regularly on how they are observing the code’s principles, that their performance should be independently monitored, and that a compliance committee could, ultimately, dismiss a company from ‘membership’.

The proposed code would commit signatories to ‘refrain from any activity which supports, solicits or encourages states or any other entities to abuse human rights’ – and would insist that companies ‘further seek to ensure that the goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights’.

Signatories would not be able to ‘invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances’ – such as a threat to national security, internal political instability or any other public emergency – to justify failures to uphold human rights.

Although the outline code covers mainly human rights, it also sets out principles in other areas, such as treatment of staff and the use of child labour.

The centre, which was established in 2000 by the Swiss government and is supported by 50 other states, believes the code would be relevant to at least 250 companies worldwide, and possibly up to 1000.

The United Nations Human Rights Council estimates that the market for businesses supplying mercenaries amounts to $100billion (£73bn) alone, and that about 70 per cent of them are in the US and the UK.

The centre suggests the code could link into the newly published Montreux Document, a text negotiated by 17 countries with the International Committee of the Red Cross stating best practice for governments on hiring and using private military and security companies.

The document was finalized last September and signatories include Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Iraq, Poland, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, Ukraine and the US.

Another voluntary code on using military and security companies has been in existence for almost a decade. However, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, which have the support of companies such as Amerada Hess, BP, ExxonMobil and Shell, are intended for multinational companies using private security companies, rather than the much smaller security businesses themselves.

Concerns about private security companies and human rights abuses have emerged in recent years in many areas of the world, including Nigeria and, most notably, Iraq. In December a grand jury in Washington DC indicted five employees of the US-based security contractor Blackwater Worldwide for their alleged role in a Baghdad shooting incident in 2007. Last month a legal case began in the UK against the British security firm Erinys International over the wounding of three civilians in Iraq.

Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces | Global | Human rights

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