Canadian Security Magazine

Achieving the impossible? An International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers

By Canadian Security   

Features Opinion

The growing use of private forces to provide military and security services around the world has shifted the provision of security from the public realm to an assemblage of private sector companies — a shift that has arguably created a deficit of robust oversight and accountability mechanisms.

As a response, in November 2010, the Swiss government facilitated a multi-stakeholder consultation process through a series of discussions and workshops with representatives from private security companies, industry associations, national governments and humanitarian and non-governmental organizations with the goal of developing the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC). 

In contrast to its predecessor, the “Montreaux Document,” the ICoC is voluntarily signed by private security companies as opposed to nation-states. It outlines clear standards based on the principles of international human rights law and seeks to develop meaningful tools of accountability. The IcoC outlines specific conditions related to the governance of private military and security companies (PMSCs) and their personnel, including: rules on the use of force, detention and apprehension of persons; prohibition of torture/cruel treatment, sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, human trafficking, slavery, child labour, discrimination; rules on the selection of subcontractors, recruitment and training of personnel, management of weapons, incident reporting, health and safety,  harassment, grievance mechanisms, to name a few.

In November 2010, 58 companies initially signed the ICoC and together with national governments and civil society, a temporary multi-stakeholder Steering Committee (SC) was established with the task of developing the initial arrangements for an independent governance and oversight mechanism (see Section 11 of ICoC). In March 2011, the SC drafted a Concept Paper describing the four primary functions of the governance and oversight mechanism: 1) verification and assessment through auditing, monitoring and certification; 2) report assessment and review; 3) complaint verification and review; and 4) ICoC administration. This oversight framework provides a unique process whereby a company’s field performance can be accurately and independently assessed. The SC also plans to develop the ICoC’s bylaws/charter by the end of July 2011, and an operational plan by November 2011.

As of April 1 2011, 94 companies have signed the ICoC, including Canpro Global, one of two Canadian companies (Garda being the other) that have signed on thus far. Mark Lalonde, Director, Canpro Global, stated that signing the ICoC will serve as an “additional point of risk mitigation for our clients and is simply good, ethical business.” Moreover, Lalonde believes that supporting the ICoC is a “logical part of corporate social responsibility” and that enhancing professional standards comes with limited consequences, especially since feedback from Canpro Global’s clients has been “uniformly positive.”


The ICoC is open for signature to companies providing security services (armed or unarmed) in “complex environments” – essentially, unstable areas where the rule of law has been undermined and state authority is limited. There is no fee for signing the ICoC and is supplementary to any national and international laws. However, becoming a signatory is only the first step in a process towards full compliance. Signatories will have to demonstrate how their internal processes meet the ICoC’s requirements; achieve certification; and submit to ongoing, independent audits (see Section 8 of ICoC).

Signatory companies must also collaborate with national standards bodies and other stakeholders to establish standards for providing security services based upon the ICoC (see Section 10 of ICoC). To this end, ASIS International has shown initiative by forming a Technical Committee, comprised of approximately 200 service providers, clients, human rights organizations, lawyers, academics, government representatives and security professionals from 24 countries to develop the ANSI/ASIS PSC.01.

According to Dr. Marc H. Siegel, Chair of the technical committee, the standard will provide requirements and guidance for a management system that provides auditable requirements based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) model for third-party certification. The standard will be applicable to all service provider companies in any country and will be consistent with the ICoC.

The ICoC oversight mechanism will ultimately decide which standards to use; however, Michael Clarke, Public Affairs Director at G4S and industry representative on the ICoC Steering Committee, assures that the work of others, including ASIS will be given “due recognition.”

The ICoC offers an additional vehicle through which PMSCs can be held to account. In areas plagued by natural disasters, civil unrest and a clear absence of government authority, the ICoC is most likely the only regulatory mechanism governing this high-risk security industry. By signing on to and abiding by the principles of the ICoC, companies can help professionalize an often negatively portrayed industry while protecting society with transparency and accountability.

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