ICoCA Takes Important Steps to Fulfill its Mission

icoca-agaLast Thursday the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA) made significant advances toward fulfilling its purpose to promote the responsible provision of security services and ensure respect for human rights and international and national laws. At the ICoCA’s Annual General Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, members of the multi-stakeholder organization voted to pass provisions that will allow private security companies (PSCs) to receive certification evidencing their adherence to the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, as well as passing two procedures related to reporting, monitoring, and performance assessment and complaints. Thus the ICoCA has put into place all the key procedures foreseen in the Articles of Association that underpinned the founding of the organization. In addition, member due increases agreed upon by participating PSCs, governments, and civil society organizations will provide funding for additional staff to undertake these new oversight functions.

According to a statement on ICoCA certification issued by the Board, after completing a pilot for certification using ANSI/ASIS PSC.1 and updating its guidance to PSCs for submitting additional human rights related information, the Secretariat is ready to begin certifying member PSCs. An amendment to the Articles of Association was passed extending the deadline for achieving certification to September 30, 2018. Concerns about the accessibility of certification to ANSI/ASIS PSC.1, a quality assurance and risk management standard that is a prerequisite of ICoCA certification, remain. The Secretariat plans to survey member PSCs to better assess whether there are barriers to ANSI/ASIS PSC.1 certification and will pilot ways of improving access to certification. More interestingly, the ICoCA is proposing a role for itself in improving oversight of certification bodies accredited to certify PSCs to ANSI/ASIS PSC.1 through activities such as the provision of guidance on assessor competencies, interpretation of the Code, and training. This could go a long way in allaying concerns about the transparency of auditing by for-profit certification bodies paid for by PSCs. However, the success of this new oversight capacity will hinge on effective engagement with certification bodies. Fortunately, a number of them participate as observers to the ICoCA.

The ICoCA Article 12 procedure on reporting, monitoring, and assessing performance and compliance was successfully passed by members. To enable these oversight requirements, the Board will develop indicators on all elements of the Code, beginning with the provisions on the use of force, apprehending persons, prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, and training of personnel. Participants at the meeting stressed the importance of prioritizing the development of indicators in areas where PSCs experienced human rights related challenges, such as workplace rights issues. In preparation for field-based reviews – which can be undertaken if the review of available information or a human rights risk assessment has identified a need for further monitoring, if there is a request from an ICoCA member, or if exigent circumstances warrant it – the Secretariat conducted a pilot field-based review in East Africa with the participation and support of three member companies. The pilot focused to screening and vetting and training of personnel. In addition, the ICoCA plans to conduct outreach to external stakeholders to create a network of contacts and sources of information in key areas of member companies’ operations.

The ICoCA Article 13 procedure on receiving and processing complaints was also affirmed by members. The creation of effective complaints and grievance mechanisms has posed a challenge for a number of multi-stakeholder initiatives, and the ICoCA has set itself apart from the rest with this new procedure. The Secretariat will now be in a position to offer member PSCs advice on how to improve their grievance mechanisms to meet the provisions of the Code. Should the Board determine that a complaint cannot be appropriately addressed by a company-level grievance mechanism or that the mechanism of a member PSC does not meet the requirements of the Code, the Secretariat can use its good offices to recommend external mediators or provide information regarding alternative grievance mechanisms that may provide effective remedy for complainants.  Should a complaint potentially rise to the level of a criminal activity, the ICoCA may report that violation to one or more competent authorities for possible investigation and prosecution of the crime.

Overall, the ICoCA is in a state of good organizational health, with strong finances, significant staffing, and active participation of PSCs, governments, and civil society organizations. The ICoCA currently has 98 member PSCs, with additional new applicants being processed in a timely fashion. Significantly, the geographical diversity of those applicants is increasing, although the greatest number of member PSCs remain U.S. and UK companies. This diversity may continue to grow in light of planned outreach and efforts to identify and address any barriers to certification. However, it remains to be seen what impact the agreed upon dues increases will have on membership numbers. Undoubtedly, with only six governments currently involved, greater participation of States, as both regulator and clients of the industry, would be preferable. To that end, the Secretariat continues to engage with the States participating in the Montreux Document Forum. The 17 civil society participants are located across four continents, and the creation of the above mentioned network may serve to grow the diversity in this pillar as well.

This Annual General Assembly represents an important turning point for the ICoCA. It is now in a position to fulfill its mission and promote the responsible, rights-respecting provision of security services. Finding agreement in a multi-stakeholder setting is never an easy task, and the ICoCA has come a long way in a respectable amount of time. If these procedures are implemented as planned, the ICoCA is poised to truly be an exemplary multi-stakeholder initiative.

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