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Welcome to ICoCA’s podcast series Future Security Trends Implications for Human Rights. We’re marking the 10th anniversary of the International Code of Conduct Association. We’re talking to the people who were involved right from the beginning, and today I am delighted to be talking to Mark DeWitt, who is chief legal officer and general counsel at Gardaworld Federal Services. Mark was on the first intake of the ICoCA’s board of directors and played an instrumental role before the association was founded.

We continue this week to unpack the origins of ICoCA with Part 2 of Mark DeWitt’s interview series.  



Was there any discussion about ICoCA conducting comprehensive audits, instead of relying on external certification bodies for standards and specific human rights elements?

There definitely was on numerous occasions which were influenced by a variety of factors. First, there was some concern primarily by the US government and the Department of Defense about the the approach to the certification and the audits. There’s already a system, the ISO system, the International Standards Organization system, where you have auditors who are trained and certified to conduct audits. There was a comfort in having some element of the process that looked at that and took that approach. There was also a concern by the US government that they couldn’t outsource a certification process. They needed to have some measure of control over it. Ultimately, the US government’s position is large enough that they can do the audit to the standard anytime they want if they feel there are concerns. As a result, there was a bit of a possessive element to how they looked at the certification scheme. On the flip side, when we talked with civil society about certification and a monitoring process, there was a real desire to have that be independent and not paid for by companies so that there could be a level of objectivity to it. That didn’t mesh very well with the idea of companies paying for audits to be certified. So there ended up being some tension there so we decided to do both things to a certain degree and split the duties a little bit so that we could accomplish both sets of objectives.

What monitoring options were discussed, what did civil society advocate for, and how have these measures been implemented in practice?

What I recall of the monitoring component was that it made its way towards a go-where-needed-when-needed approach. You might go to a specific region because it’s a particularly dynamic region, and you might look into what kind of issues were arising, or you might respond to a specific issue. Civil society would point to things like the Fair Labor Association and other multi-stakeholder initiatives to point to this concept of coming in and helping companies identify how they should be performing the work, how they should be considering human rights principles and things of that nature so that monitoring was always in that category. There were discussions regarding how we would get clients to agree to this because, the company signs into the code, and the company agrees to follow the requirements. But you may have a client that doesn’t see it the same way. Consequently, some sensitivities came in to monitor from that perspective, where certification we talked about as a way to have an initial benchmark that companies are following the code, but they’re always going to be sensitivities about how you would handle monitoring in certain regions with certain clients. Those were the markers that I saw about how monitoring would work as far as how it worked in the contemporary times of the association. From my perspective, it’s largely gone into that direction where there are visits that are made to certain places to understand the context a little better, to talk to the companies, to see the challenges, talk to the local community, see the concerns, and relay feedback back into the company so they can continue to evolve and adopt best practices and hopefully prevent any kind of serious issues. From my seat, it’s evolved largely in the direction that we were talking about at the time when it first came into the conversation about how we wanted it to be executed.

What role did clients play and was there an opportunity to bring them more into the fold? Where do you think that we should be taking this now?

There definitely were conversations. We met with the voluntary principals or members of that group on a few occasions. We met with the maritime industry, we met with insurance companies, but at that point, we had a code but not an association. There was a limit to how far we could take the conversation. There was interest, but a bit of an “okay, come back to me when you know what this thing looks like” that appeared in those conversations. The challenge has always been getting clients to understand the value that the code brings in a way that’s very specific to their operations and that benefits them. At the time, we would talk about how at some point the code is going to become industry standard, and if you don’t include it in your contracts, then you’re introducing legal risk. That was a conversation we had with clients and with insurance companies. At the time there was a lack of understanding of where the association was going to go. In some ways, the association was ahead of its time because now you see these conversations happening about ESG, supply chain due diligence and other similar types of concerns. You mentioned working conditions. You see all of these things, and then you see how the code and the association are equipped to help with those things. It’s a maturing process for clients to see how the code can help them address many of the things that are coming into focus now. I’m more hopeful than I’ve ever been that we can start to achieve some of the things that we were talking about ten years ago. How do we get clients involved? How do we get more governments involved? You see some of these issues just coming into clearer focus in a way that I think the code already speaks to.

Do you think it is performing as had been hoped? What’s worked well and where do you think it needs to improve?

Having been at the RGA event in December, it was very nice to see that some of the issues that were very hard to sort through between the three pillars of the association ten years ago are now settled in the rearview mirror now. You can start to talk about the kinds of things that are required and that need to happen to continue to advance the association and continue to advance the code. I’d ticked off a list of them when I sat on the panel in December. I don’t know that I can recall them off the top of my head here and now, but it was nice to see that some of those debates had moved into the past. You could talk about adding clients, you could talk about how should the grievance system work in a manner that makes the association more involved in it. How is certification going to continue to evolve? What kind of categories of members do we want to have? Should we get small companies more involved? So there was a discussion about adding another tier of membership. These are all things that there were counterarguments to ten years ago that maybe stalled the ability to progress. We’ve now moved beyond some of the things that seemed entrenched.

What do you think are the key issues and trends, opportunities and threats that I should be thinking about and engaging on and planning for in the upcoming five year plan?

A few things come to mind for me that could present challenges and opportunities for the association. Obviously, with what’s happened with Russia, but also, what could happen with China and what’s currently happening with Israel? It’s much more different than it was at the time when the code and the association came into being. When you’re talking about conflicts happening in places like Iraq or Afghanistan. One key factor being that in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States controlled the airspace. It was a much different type of conflict. That allowed for private security to operate in those types of environments, whereas you don’t see that in Ukraine. You may not see it if there’s any kind of conflict involving China. You also have sanctions being put in place against China by the United States. Just last week, I saw sanctions coming out by the United States against Chinese military companies. Not necessarily security, but just general military companies. All these complicate the industry and influence how it’s going to operate, where it’s going to operate, and what it’s going to be doing. I believe this is what needs to be focused on. Where is the industry going to be? What is it going to be doing? How is it going to be doing it? It’s not going to look the same as Iraq or Afghanistan. That’s one area where there’s just going to have to be a focus that comes into play and not be too tied to the mindset that existed at the time when the code and the association were created.

You also have technology coming into play. You have drones, you have artificial intelligence, and laser technology. It’s going to be a much different environment, especially in conflict zones going forward. That could also complicate how private security operates and the kinds of threats that could be posed to the private security employees, to the local community, and members of the military involved. That’s another area that’s going to be interesting to see evolve. Lastly, you need to look at the environment where conflicts could occur, and where private security might come into play. If you look at a conflict in the Pacific, logistics are going to be much different than something in the Middle East. How are security companies involved in that? You might see more maritime security coming into play. These are all the things that I think will change how private security gets involved in areas where there may be weakened states, armed conflict, and, environmental contingency. Those are where problematic issues arise. These issues could influence what the association needs to look at going forward.

We thank Mark DeWitt for sharing his insight on this important topic! Stay tuned as we continue to unpack the origins of ICOCA through our interview series. 





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).