An Interview with Alexandra Mackenzie, Director of the Humanitarian Organizations and Food Assistance Division in the International Humanitarian Assistance Bureau at Global Affairs Canada.
What is the Canadian government doing as a regulator to promote responsible private security?
As an advocate for strengthening the rules-based international order, Canada supports international efforts to ensure that territorial, contracting and home states involved with the services of private military and security companies (PMSCs) understand, respect and act in a manner that is consistent with international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL).
In 2008, Canada was among the original 17 signatories to the Montreux Document on pertinent international legal obligations and good practices for States related to operations of private military and security companies during armed conflict, which sets out a comprehensive range of international legal obligations and best practices for States related to the operations of PMSCs in complex environments.
Canada was actively involved in the development of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (“Code of Conduct”), a multi-stakeholder initiative facilitated by the Swiss government, aimed at producing an industry-wide code which complements the Montreux Document, in 2010.
Canada also participated in several drafting conferences in the years leading to the launch of ICoCA, and became a member in 2016; we consistently promote and highlight these regulatory frameworks in our policies on responsible business conduct (RBC) abroad.
The Government of Canada endorses and promotes the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs) as a useful framework for natural resource companies seeking to reduce risks of violence or human rights abuses related to security deployments. Canada is a member of the Voluntary Principles Initiative (VPI), an international, multi-stakeholder forum which brings governments, civil society and private sector representatives together to share information, ideas and best practices on protecting human rights in the context of natural resources projects. Together with UNICEF Canada, Barrick Gold and other VPI members, Canada helped to draft the Child Rights and Security Checklist and accompanying handbook which helps companies assess and mitigate impacts that private security forces may have on children.
In April 2019, Canada announced the first Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE). This announcement bolsters Canada’s RBC framework which aims to foster and promote responsible business practices among Canadian companies, seeks to catch problems early before they escalate and, in the event of severe problems, provides voluntary dispute resolution mechanisms to reach solutions.
A multi-stakeholder Advisory Body on RBC was also established to advise the Federal Government on the effective implementation and further development of its laws, policies and practices addressing responsible business conduct for Canadian companies operating abroad in all sectors.
Moreover, a key element of Canada’s Trade Diversification Strategy is an inclusive approach to trade in which companies mitigate risks in new markets and whereby all segments of society may benefit from trade and investment opportunities. The Government of Canada expects Canadian companies operating abroad to respect human rights, operate lawfully and conduct their activities in a socially and environmentally responsible manner, in line with internationally recognized responsible business conduct standards, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; providing for accessible, low cost and constructive dispute resolution mechanisms which do not preclude legal avenues in host countries or in Canadian courts.
Can you tell us more about the newly appointed Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise and how this Ombudsperson might complement international initiatives promoting responsible business such as ICoCA?
Seeking to strengthen Canada’s responsible business conduct (RBC) commitment, the Government of Canada announced the appointment of Ms. Sheri Meyerhoffer as the first Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise on April 8, 2019.
The Ombudsperson will promote the implementation of internationally endorsed human rights guidelines and advise Canadian companies on best practices. Specifically, her mandate is to promote the implementation of the United Nation’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on responsible business conduct, and advise Canadian companies on best practices. This advice could include, for instance, guidance related to the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers.
The Ombudsperson is mandated to review allegations of human rights abuses arising from Canadian company operations abroad in the mining, oil and gas and garment sectors and provide recommendations to help resolve disputes. In this context, the Ombudsperson would be able to review an allegation of human rights abuse including incidents on or around a Canadian company’s operations undertaken by security personnel (i.e., either Canadian, locally hired or local state) and fact-find to see if there may have been abuse and whether there was indeed any link to the Canadian company.
The Ombudsperson will complement the role of the Canadian National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Canada’s existing dispute resolution and formal dialogue facilitation mechanism.
Responsible business conduct abroad is a competitive advantage for Canadian business. Canada is recognized as partners of choice in international markets and the appointment of the Ombudsperson is another step forward to strengthen Canada’s brand and reputation.
What are some of the challenges the Canadian government faces when contracting private security companies in complex environments?
Some of the challenges the Canadian government faces include:
a) Local Markets – In certain regions where smaller PSCs and local markets thrive, there are a lack of providers that meet international standards for PSC’s which may include mandatory training on human rights and international humanitarian law in armed conflict settings. In such circumstances where the choices are limited, it becomes challenging to determine the criteria for contracting the services of PSCs.
b) Training and certifications for company personnel – Companies vary in terms of compliance in maintaining or renewing training/certifications for their staff. These issues may be discovered during the verification or audit processes and requires additional oversight and follow-up to ensure they are addressed by the company which typically has the responsibility of ensuring that all personnel assigned to the contract have the certifications and training specified in the Statement of Work.
c) Hyperinflation/Reliability of local currency – The costs of hyperinflation sometimes directly affects the wages of security personnel in certain regions where for example, we negotiate security service contracts with the security company in US Dollars as a universally recognized currency in order to mitigate hyperinflation, but the employees of the PSCs are then paid wages in the local currency which doesn’t protect them from hyperinflation. This can create logistical challenges and/or potential disagreements between the client and the vendors.
What is the Canadian government doing to encourage more countries to join the ICoCA?
Through our mission in Geneva, Canada is actively engaged in activities that aim to raise the Association’s profile and to demonstrate the value of ICoCA membership to various stakeholders, including raising it formally in various multilateral negotiations at the Human Rights Council and in informal bilateral discussions. We remain committed to using our advocacy channels to promote ICoCA’s important work and to explore avenues for further cooperation and outreach.
What role does Canada consider the ICoCA should play in ensuring the provision of responsible private security around the world?
ICoCA has the primary responsibility, through its three core functions of certification, monitoring and handling complaints, to ensure that PSCs meet the highest international standards by sharing best practices with all stakeholders and ensuring that responsible and thoroughly vetted PSCs are selected.