Welcome to Private Security Conversations, a new platform for debate on private security. Our aim is to create a space for a renewed conversation on private security with security practitioners and policymakers, researchers, human rights defenders, and all those interested in the evolution of security, human rights and conflict.
10 years ago, the International Code of Conduct Association for Private Security Service Providers was created to operationalise international norms for private security. Since then, much has changed in the sector: the demand for private security has been booming, private security actors have embraced new technologies, new spaces, and new roles, making them major actors in all aspects of security at local, national, and international levels.
Progress has been achieved but much remains to be done to develop a universally responsible and accountable private security sector. Across the globe, researchers, regulators and practitioners are finding solutions, yet a common platform for sharing these innovations is absent. With Private Security Conversations we aim to provide precisely that space.
There is a need to raise awareness about existing norms and best practices, stimulate research, develop guidance and training tools adapted to meet the challenges of today, as well as to anticipate future developments. In view of the size of the industry, we need to bring in this project more private security actors, Governments, and all entities contracting private security.
More than just Blackwater to Wagner: Understanding the evolution of private security
How has this sector been evolving? Where is it heading and what are the risks associated with new real or virtual areas of operations? What are the challenges faced and solutions brought by the women and men working in the sector?
Security is a dynamic, expanding economic sector employing millions of personnel around the world. According to an International Labour Organisation report of 2022 it has been growing at an estimated 12% average annually between 2005 and 2019. It is also a highly competitive industry with giant global players and many small and medium-sized enterprises.
Private security is morphing constantly. Innovative and agile companies continuously evolve to meet new challenges. In today’s world, they serve a pivotal function in safeguarding critical aspects of our lives, including the extraction of essential minerals crucial for our ecological transition, the protection of our physical and digital global trade routes, and even the security of our entertainment events, such as the recent FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Security personnel were on the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic and they are embracing new roles such as cyber risk analysts or on-demand guardian angels you can call with an App in case of emergency.
Private actors are also playing a renewed role in conflicts and other complex environments. Military contractors were a dominant feature of the multinational operations of the last two decades, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. They collect intelligence, protect diplomatic compounds and humanitarian warehouses, provide training to local military and security personnel, and ensure security at asylum centers and private prisons.
Private security companies and military contractors are often confused with mercenaries, recruited to take an active part in combat. In recent years the shadowy Wagner group has also been emblematic both of a new type of “hybrid warfare” and, at the same time, of the permanence of the figure of the soldier of fortune in history, which proliferates in resource-rich crisis zones.
Much confusion pervades the public debate regarding the status of the various security, military and mercenary actors, and the applicable norms. Private actors can play a much-needed and legitimate role, aiming at enhancing security, they can also unfortunately be the arm of criminal or murky foreign policy interests. All too often, debates on private security limit themselves to caricatural representations of the negative role of mercenaries, tarring all private security companies with the same brush. A more granular understanding of the sector is needed, to inform policy and legal discussions and present best practices and solutions.
Regulating a constantly changing industry
For those promoting responsible private security, it is critical to look at the future and anticipate changes, for the risk of “regulating the last war” is ever-present in view of the dynamic of this sector. Looking at the direction where the industry is going and renewing the debate around the regulation of security services is one of the objectives of Private Security Conversations.
The power private security has on the public, from collecting and selling personal data to potential use of force, calls for enhanced scrutiny and accountability. First and foremost, it calls for preventative measures to be put in place to anticipate future incidents.
Security guards may infringe on the human rights of others making it imperative for companies to establish well-defined commitments and policies. Inadequate qualifications, experience, training, or poor treatment of security personnel heighten the risk of their negative impact on the human rights of those around them.
10 years after the creation of the International Code of Conduct Association and 15 years after the adoption of the Montreux Document, where do we stand on the regulation and governance of the sector? Is the law sufficiently known and respected? What are the possible gaps?
Under the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, all business enterprises have an independent responsibility to respect human rights. In order to do so they are required to exercise human rights due diligence to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for how they address impacts on human rights. A growing number of countries and regional organisations are adopting human rights due diligence laws, and regulations and it is anticipated that they will have a cascading impact on the way private security is regulated.
Our editorial line: Making the case for responsible security
Private Security Conversations will publish interviews, podcasts, and opinion pieces. While contributions won’t necessarily reflect the view of ICoCA, we would like to adopt the same approach as the one that the Association is pursuing: the one of a multi-stakeholder initiative, believing in constructive engagement with all actors and drawing on their collective intelligence to bring practical solutions.
Private security should not be studied in isolation. Evolutions in the sector are driven by developments in societies, technologies, or international politics. Conversely, private security has an impact on people and society that needs to be better understood. With the launch of Private Security Conversations, we have initiated discussions on several thematic series: on technologies and their impact on human rights; on the evolution of private military services in international relations, and on poor working conditions in the sector and their link to an increase in human rights risk. We also invite authors to reflect on the 10th anniversary of ICoCA and share their perspectives on the evolution of the industry. Your suggestions and feedback will be welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org
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The views and opinions presented in this article belong solely to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the stance of the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA).