When the Abused Becomes the Abuser: Policy Brief & Report


In 2022-2023, ICoCA, in partnership with UNI Global Union and the University of Denver, set out to examine working conditions in the private security industry. In line with ICoCA’s mission, this research explored working conditions with a lens toward human rights, assessing how working conditions intersect with the rights of personnel and in what ways they can shape personnel’s treatment of the public. To holistically promote the provision of responsible security, all stakeholders must invest in personnel’s well-being.

Private security has experienced exponential growth in recent decades and is projected to continue growing. Today, private security personnel outnumber public forces in many parts of the world. Humanitarian organisations, mining companies, governments, private individuals, and others all rely on private security to protect sites, assets, and people. Under many circumstances, the presence of private forces acts as a prerequisite to carrying out the client’s operations. However, the quality of the services delivered, in part contingent on the working conditions of personnel, is the deciding factor in whether security services will improve security outcomes for clients, staff, and civilians or undermine these outcomes. The effects of working conditions ripple out onto communities. Working conditions are an overlooked driver of human rights compliance and an underexplored element of personnel’s human rights. Poor working conditions can often violate and undermine the rights of personnel. These conditions also carry consequences for personnel’s mental and physical health, relationships, and life outside of work. A culture of silence in the industry further tends to brush working conditions under the rug, perpetuating poor working conditions at the cost of human rights adherence. This research is centered on both the people in the industry and the communities affected by its operations, shedding light on parts of the sector that have often been hidden from public view. The quality of services delivered, operational efficiency, and the successful protection of sites and people are predicated on the working conditions of personnel. Investing in working conditions is an opportunity for clients, companies, governments, and other stakeholders to raise the industry standard, promote a positive reputation of the sector, protect the rights of workers, and elevate the delivery of services by fostering a culture of care and respect in the industry.

ICoCA conducted interviews with over 40 experts in the private security industry based across the world, including academics, managers of private security companies, personnel, and civil society organisations. An online survey was also distributed to about 400 personnel around the world and in-person surveys were also conducted with a total of about 3,000 personnel across Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda in 2023. This work spanned the globe, assessing working conditions and examining how they matter for the delivery of responsible security in a variety of contexts. Findings identified a variety of challenges in the workplace, including pay, hours, and discrimination. At the same time, the research also identified positive developments and examples of companies and clients advancing responsible security by investing in working conditions.

This policy brief and report capture the challenges of private security personnel, the consequences of poor working conditions, and identifies solutions to improving the livelihood of personnel and all those they interact with.


Download the policy brief             Download the full report