April 24, 2009 / 5:41 PM / 11 years ago

Government proposes regulation for private security firms

LONDON (Reuters) - The government proposed national and international codes of conduct on Friday to regulate private security contractors, a multi-billion dollar industry that plays a sometimes controversial role in conflict zones.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband speaks during a joint news conference with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari (unseen) in the headquarters of the Foreign Ministry in Baghdad February 26, 2009. REUTERS/Ali Abbas/Pool

The system would be self-regulatory and the main sanction facing private security firms that broke the code would be losing government and other business.

Security firms are active in conflict areas like Iraq and Afghanistan, protecting officials, aid workers and journalists. Some have raised controversy, such as U.S. firm Blackwater, five of whose guards are accused of killing 14 unarmed civilians in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad.

The British private security industry is one of the largest, with annual revenues of one billion pounds.

“We...need to ensure private military and security companies operating abroad do so to the highest standards, understanding that this industry is here to stay,” Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a document seeking public comment on the government’s proposals.

The government said it had rejected the option of licensing security companies, saying such a system would be hard to enforce when the companies worked in often remote locations.

Instead, it proposed working with the companies’ British trade association to agree a code of conduct to raise standards.

Companies wanting to join the trade association would have to meet high standards of behaviour and if they later broke the code of conduct, they could be expelled from the association.

The code would set high standards of accountability and respect for human rights laws, the government said.

The government, an important customer for the private security firms, would add muscle to the code by only using firms that complied with the code.

Britain proposed a similar international code of conduct for private security firms, developing an initiative launched in 2005 by the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

It said it would work with the Swiss government on the initiative and hoped to develop internationally agreed standards for private security companies within two years.

Reporting by Adrian Croft

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