The Seventh Annual General Assembly of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers Association was held online between November 30 and December 4, 2020. The AGA marked the Tenth Anniversary of the International Code of Conduct. It was the first time the event has taken place online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and represented an opportunity to engage with Members, Affiliates, Observers and other stakeholders all over the world. A combination of plenary sessions open to the general public, along with pillar meetings held exclusively for Members, Affiliates and Observers took place throughout the week. Recordings of all the public events are available to watch online here.
The AGA was officially opened by Krystyna Marty, State Secretary, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Government of Switzerland. State Secretary Marty reflected on the achievements of the Association since it’s inception. She also spoke of the need to raise awareness about ICoCA amongst companies required to comply with human rights standards. The private security sector has a leadership role to play in making a decisive difference in achieving the global human rights agenda.
Jamie Williamson, Executive Director of ICoCA presented the Annual Report 2019-2020. Mr. Williamson acknowledged the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the operations of the Secretariat and its Members across all pillars. Despite the challenges the pandemic has placed on the Association, the Goals of ICoCA’s Strategic Plan 2019-2023 remain unchanged. Mr. Williamson reported that the pandemic has not resulted in no slow-down in expressions of interest or applications for Membership and Affiliation.
The second plenary held on December 2nd brought together a panel of experts to discuss Regional Perspectives on Responsible Private Security. Richard Wylde, Director of Government and Defense at Control Risks and Chair of the Security in Complex Environments Group (UK) moderated the discussion. Dr. Alessandro Arduino from the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore first presented on the rise of China and its use of private security along the belt and road initiative. The Chinese private security industry counts between five and eight thousand companies employing around 2 million people. Dr. Arduino noted, however, that there are restrictions on the type of work can be conducted overseas and that many Chinese companies with investments in Africa lack in-depth understanding of the operating context and use armed militias to protect their assets. Carmen Rosa De León-Escribano, Executive Director of CSO Member Instituto de Enseñanza para el Desarrollo Sostenible (IEPADES), Guatamala, whose election to the Board of Directors was confirmed during the AGA, spoke about the recent developments in Latin America, where PSC personnel outnumber public security forces in many countries. The growth of the industry has in parallel resulted in a growth in the trade of illegal firearms, with many companies selling them on the black market. Gautier Porot, Security Director with International SOS noted how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many companies operate, and for international SOS health and security are now integrated into risk management for their clients.
The final plenary held on December 4th, was opened with an Address by Anita Ramasastry, Henry M. Jackson Professor of Law, University of Washington School of Law & Vice Chair, United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights. Professor Ramasastry noted how ICoCA, which builds on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights has gone beyond being merely soft law instrument. She argued it has become an innovative hybrid of soft and harder law, more effective than top-down regulation as it becomes embedded in government procurement of private security services. As mandatory supply chain human rights due diligence legislation begins to be crafted, Professor Ramasastry believes ICoCA Members are well-positioned to adapt to new regulations as they come online. ICoCA is paving the way in demonstrating effective human rights due diligence. Much work remains to be done, however, especially when considering complex conflict environments.
A final panel discussion then considered the Code of Conduct ten years on, providing perspectives on the future of responsible security. Dr. Sabelo Gumedze, Head and Senior Researcher, Research and Development Unit, Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA), South Africa provided the regulators perspective in South Africa. High fines play a punitive role for private security companies in South Africa who violate PSIRA’s legally binding Code of Conduct. Jerome Bellion-Jourdan, former European Union Negotiator on Business and Human Rights, provided an update on the formulation of EU’s mandatory supply chain human rights due diligence legislation. Two main questions currently being discussed concern whether companies themselves should prioritise human rights risks and what access to remedy in EU Member and Member states’ national courts should be for events that occur in third-countries. Bunafsha Gulakova, a human rights lawyer provided a reality check on EU practices, having witnessed poor selection and management of private security contractors on EU contracts. On many occasions the cheapest providers are selected without scrutiny on the level of professionalism offered. Adrian Powell, Managing Partner at Proelium Law, spoke about the challenges for private security companies in understanding the complexity and abstraction of human rights law. More regulation is not necessarily the answer, rather private security companies need help in improving their human rights performance.