Load low-bandwidth site?

Published: December 15, 2021

NGOs Need to Take Responsibility for their Private Security Contracting Practices

By: Juliette Jourde

Share this:

To what extent do humanitarian organisations resort to private security providers to mitigate their risks? What kind of services do they contract? And how well is this practice regulated? In this blog, Juliette Jourde presents the findings from a recent study by ICOCA and GISF on NGOs’ practices.

Over the last decade, many humanitarian organisations have increasingly used private security providers (PSPs) to manage security risks. Generally, contracted guards posted in front of compounds are the most visible manifestation of this and have become part of the daily life of many humanitarian workers.

Yet, contracting PSPs raises concerns among the humanitarian community, particularly regarding the potential clashes with humanitarian principles and acceptance. Despite these concerns, for a long time,  there has been little information available on how widespread these contracting practices are and little discussion about the issues that contracting private security providers can create.

During the last six months, ICoCA and GISF, with the support of their members, have been working on a collaborative project to address this gap. Through a joint research project on humanitarian organisations’ private security contracting practices, the research aimed to shed light on improving responsible private security contracting practices. The research’s findings were based on a survey and interviews with representatives of humanitarian organisations, mainly humanitarian NGOs.

The findings were first presented in a webinar in October and served as the basis for an ICoCA/GISF policy brief.

ICoCA and GISF are now glad to publish the full results of this study in a joint report, Private Security Contracting: Time to Take Responsibility.

Five findings from Private Security Contracting: Time to Take Responsibility

The report highlights current trends, issues and challenges regarding private security contracting practices in the humanitarian sector and offers key recommendations to improve them.

More precisely, it presents five core observations which were at the centre of the testimonies received during the study:

  1. Today, humanitarian organisations rely extensively on the services of private security providers, yet many humanitarian organisations are not equipped to make informed decisions when contracting PSPs.
  2. Low cost is frequently the main driver in selecting PSPs, even though this approach can generate more risks for humanitarian organisations.
  3. Humanitarian organisations have limited awareness of and make little reference to international standards governing PSPs.
  4. Private security contracting entails major risks for a humanitarian organisation: this should imply a careful risk assessment, understanding its impact on acceptance, and effective mitigation measures.
  5. In many contexts, the working conditions of guards are very poor. For humanitarian organisations, investing in relationships with their security providers is critical.

The report highlights the complexities involved in private security contracting, providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of the risks and opportunities it can present to humanitarian organisations.

For instance, the report looks at how staffing choices can impact humanitarian organisations’ acceptance when contacting private security guards in certain areas. It also touches on the issue of the risks PSP staff themselves can bring to humanitarian organisations’ personnel and shows the importance of mitigating the risks of sexual harassment and abuse by contracted guards.

The report demonstrates that responsible private security contracting requires humanitarian organisations to undertake comprehensive human rights due diligence on their contracted providers, putting solid procedures and rigorous monitoring in place. ICoCA offers humanitarian organisations the most efficient and effective way to ensure rigorous human rights due diligence on private security providers because the Association continuously monitors its member and affiliate companies by tracking news, conducting regular in-person site visits, and by working with its civil society network. This is critical to both ensure that PSPs don’t represent a risk for humanitarian organisations but also because those organisations, as clients, have a duty of care towards their staff, the local communities, beneficiaries and contracted personnel.

This report, along with the accompanying policy brief, is an attempt to facilitate a discussion on the subject while serving as a basis for immediate action. It also calls for more investigations involving a broader spectrum of humanitarian actors while providing concrete steps humanitarian organisations and their donors can take today to improve their private security contracting practices.

About the Author

Project & Outreach Assistant

As Project & Outreach Assistant in a co-funded position with GISF, Juliette supports projects and outreach on responsible private security contracting, focusing on the humanitarian sector.

Before, Juliette Jourde interned at ACTED in Paris, at the Organisation of the American States in Bogota and the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights in Buenos Aires.

Juliette Jourde holds a bachelor in Political Science and a Master in International Security with a specialisation in Human Rights and Latin America from Sciences Po Paris.



Contracting Private Security Providers – a double-edged sword

Humanitarian NGOs’ contracting of private security providers continues to raise crucial questions for the humanitarian sector. While these companies offer a wide range of services that are particularly useful in fragile and complex environments, they can also bring additional risks to NGOs. In this blog, Juliette Jourde explains why GISF and ICoCA are launching a survey to investigate the challenges NGOs face when contracting private security providers and identify what best practices could be promoted in the sector.


Greater Accountability and Respect for Human Rights: A Contract Guidance Tool for Private Security Services

As an NGO, do you hire or are you considering hiring a private security company (PSC) to ensure the security of your operations? Do you implement guidelines for the hiring of private security services? How do you select a PSC? Does the contract include respect for human rights? DCAF is…