Saturday, October 08, 2005















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Saturday Feature
Focus on big issues distracts from direct challenges
Gill Plimmer

          In the weeks since the first attack on London's transport system in July, a bomb has injured 30 people in the Philippines, there was talk of a coup in Ivory Coast, and a Guyanese businessman was kidnapped in Trinidad.
None made world headlines but almost all had implications for companies operating or considering operating in those countries. There are continuing local risks in a number of other destinations - Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Indonesia to name just a few.
While acknowledging the impact events in the Middle East have had on global security, Sebastian Willis Fleming, director of project management at Control Risks Group, says the focus on the big issues such as the "war on terror" can mean that business is distracted from the more direct challenges it faces around the world.
"The general climate across the globe at the moment has changed, and people and organisations are aware of security issues, but they're not necessarily taking account of the right ones," he says. "In some cases, companies may be bolstering their corporate headquarters yet leaving offices out in the field -- often in more risky environments exposed."
Companies going into a country need to assess the risks and make sure they have a good understanding of the politics of the country, they need to look at how they can mitigate them, ensuring they have good policies and procedures, and they need to ensure they adhere to these practices.
"Companies often fall into an environment," says Ian French, managing director of consultancy services at Kroll.
"They chase an opportunity, win the contract and before they know it they've fallen into a situation that they have no experience of handling. They just hadn't thought through the implications."
The most common mistake companies make is to bolt on security as an afterthought. "Companies need to realise that security doesn't sit in the guy at the gate with the shiny pair of boots," says Mr French.
They need to make security integral to all business decisions, and ensure they develop an integrated policy that is applicable throughout the organisation, whether at a head office in New York or a branch office in Tehran. "There needs to be a tiered approach to decision making," says Mr French. "People need to understand who can make decisions and when."
This can include mechanisms for everything from complying with the regulations and laws of that country to having a system in place that will help the company account for personnel if there is a bombing at a nearby hotel. In extreme cases, it includes making sure the company has the ability to get people out of the country if necessary.
Strategic decisions should also be made as to who to employ and when to employ them. In countries where there is strong anti-western sentiment, it may be better to employ locals. But, in some cases, the skills of expatriates may be needed.
"It can be extremely useful to employ locals. But there's often an element of nepotism and cronyism in these countries so they might want to employ a consultant to work alongside the locals to ensure the management runs smoothly as well," says Mr Willis Fleming.
The kind of security training that is provided and who it is given to will also be important. In some cases, it may be worth a company teaching the employee and his dependants how to check vehicles for explosives or to be aware of suspicious behaviour.
"If you can keep the employee's dependants happy and feeling safe, you have access to a much wider range and quality of workers and there is a better chance that they will last the distance," says Mr Willis Fleming.
Companies that fail to take issues of corporate security seriously may pay dearly, either by losing staff or by being forced to give up an important contract. They will also lose out financially; in some places, the cost of security can add 10 per cent or more to the cost of the contract.
Mr French cites the recent example of an infrastructure company that agreed a contract in Nepal without considering seriously the implications of the Maoist rebellion.
Within weeks, a couple of its local workers had died at the hands of rebels and the roads on which the project relied had been blown up. The company was forced to pull out.
"There are some risks you can control and some that you can't but you do need to be aware of what they are so that you can make intelligent decisions," says Mr French.


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