The spotlight is on security and human rights with the March 2, 2017 adoption of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (the VPs) by the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) and with the Canadian government’s own endorsement of the VPs in 2009. So it is timely that the International Finance Corp.’s (IFC) has released a Good Practice Handbook regarding the use of security forces. The handbook expands on the IFC’s Performance Standard Four (Community Health, Safety, and Security) and provides guidance on the proper use of security forces in global operations.
In recent years, Canadian courts have been increasingly open to hearing claims alleging liability on parent companies for the misconduct of security forces employed by global subsidiaries. As such human rights issues are increasingly being litigated at home, there is a growing need for companies to develop a best practice approach to security and human rights. As a starting point, the IFC’s Good Practice handbook offers ways for companies operating abroad to understand the breadth of risks they face and how to handle them.
Assessing and mitigating risk is a crucial component of balancing security with respect for human rights. Risk assessment involves examining likely impacts of security risks on the community around a project.
Where low risks are likely, risk assessments can be done by those in charge of security internally or by external consultants. But in high-risk situations, risk assessments may entail extensive on-the-ground research with experts and scenario-specific mitigations strategies.
Considering issues of gender
The IFC stresses the importance of including a gendered perspective in the use of security forces. Women have different experiences and interaction with security personnel, so it is important to consult with women to understand issues they might have and adapt risk mitigation strategies. The handbook suggests adapting training guides to reflect this perspective, hiring female security personnel and reaching out to women in the community as various means to incorporating women’s unique experience and perspectives on security forces.
Engaging private security
Good management of privately engaged security forces is key to reducing and mitigating risks. The possibility of conflict is sometimes unavoidable and security forces may be the first to intervene where conflict occurs. The handbook recommends that the security personnel be subject to background checks and diligence, such as being screened for past abuses and dishonesty.
They should also be properly trained to follow procedures on the use of force.
The handbook also stresses the importance of formalizing the employee relationship through contractual agreements.
While not a failsafe, an employment contract supplemented by a code of conduct and the proper monitoring structures will promote good conduct by security personnel. It can also allow for economic consequences to be imposed where breach occurs.
Co-ordination with public security
Engagement with public security forces is another recommended proactive way to reduce risk. This is especially necessary in high-risk areas where the political climate is unstable.
This can be done, for example, by being in contact with the local police or by signing a memorandum of understanding to identify who of the public authorities or the private security forces intervenes for what types of events.
Broader community engagement means creating an open door for the community to be heard, both before and after security issues arise. Opening a dialogue with the community can help a company to understand possible areas of conflict or risk.
Formalizing a grievance mechanism can facilitate this engagement process and allow for community concerns to be effectively raised with the company.
The foregoing concepts as developed by the IFC relate to broader human rights risk management, consistent with prevailing standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The overarching goal is to “respect” human rights in commercial operations. While some circumstances can present very significant challenges for companies, taking a diligence approach and adhering to best practices can serve a company well both from a “social licence” and a legal and reputational risk.
MICHAEL TORRANCE is a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright, Toronto.