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Voluntary regulation for mercenaries? Yeah that should work

A new report condemns the voluntary code of conduct for private military and security companies as a sham, writes Jenny Nelson

February 3, 2016
3 min read


Jenny NelsonJenny Nelson is a Red Pepper web editor.


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yellow figureWhile public attention has turned away from Iraq and Afghanistan, the private armies that gained notoriety there have seen business booming around the world.

According to a report by charity War on Want, the companies have found a wealth of new clients in the private sector, particularly in the extractive industries. They have sought out and exploited political instability in the wake of the Arab uprisings, and their floating armouries find lucrative business protecting commercial shipping interests across the world’s oceans.

In this industry, war and conflict are opportunities for profit. It is also an industry in which the UK plays a leading role.

The International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers is a voluntary code with a number of commitments such as:

‘Signatory Companies will not… participate in, encourage, or seek to benefit from any national or international crimes including but not limited to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, torture, enforced disappearance, forced or compulsory labour, hostage-taking, sexual or gender-based violence, human trafficking, the trafficking of weapons or drugs, child labour or extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.’

That is all very well, but the association set up to oversee use of the code has been found to be lacking in key areas such as governance, monitoring and state responsibility, according to War on Want.

The code of conduct simply serves to legitimise the industry’s actions

For instance, the same body with the power to certify whether a company is meeting the principles of the voluntary code is dominated by representatives of the industry itself; thirteen civil society organisations are outnumbered by 135 security companies.

The lack of a significant sanctions process also leads the report to conclude that the code of conduct simply serves to legitimise the industry’s actions.

War on Want calls on the UK government to introduce binding controls on the industry as a matter of urgency and they support ongoing efforts to create an international legally binding framework.

The report Mercenaries Unleashed is available on the War on Want website.

Picture credit: The U.S. Army on flickr.com


Jenny NelsonJenny Nelson is a Red Pepper web editor.


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