Ethical Performance
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UK to draw up new code on control of security firms

June 2009

The UK government is to come up with a code of conduct on business use of private military and security companies (PMSCs) which it hopes could be applied internationally.

Foreign secretary David Miliband said last month that there would be a public consultation on how his government wishes to promote the standards of conduct. He said he was particularly concerned about how the use of PMSCs can affect human rights, assist repression, or provoke or prolong wars.

The Foreign Office says its ‘preferred option’ is a three-part package of:

  producing a code of conduct agreed with ‘the relevant UK trade association’ and monitored by the government

  using government influence as a buyer of weapons and security equipment

  promoting ‘higher global standards’.

The package builds on a recent project by the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross to create internationally agreed standards for private security businesses within two years (EP10, issue 9, p8). However, the Foreign Office has not yet set a timescale.

The government hopes to discuss the development of ‘a convention of states and key buyers that will be able to insist that private military and security companies wishing to bid for future contracts will be required to adhere to the internationally agreed standards’. It says: ‘This will set a benchmark for private security procurement and practice.’

The United Nations Human Rights Council estimates that the market for businesses supplying mercenaries amounts to $100billion (£63.7bn) alone, and that about 70 per cent of them are in the US and the UK.

Concerns about private security companies and human rights abuses have emerged in recent years in many areas, including Nigeria and, most notably, Afghanistan and Iraq, where £250m has been spent on PMSCs by the UK government alone since 2001.

UK Foreign Office | UK & NI Ireland | Human rights

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