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Ten years ago, on 10 November 2010, the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers was signed by 58 private security companies at a ceremony held near Geneva. The Code established ground-breaking standards to ensure that private security companies respect human rights and international humanitarian law in complex environments, such as fragile states and places where governance is weak.  It was the culmination of two years of intense discussion and debate between governments, companies and civil society – championed by Switzerland and supported by DCAF.

The Code is part of a holistic approach to regulating the private security sector, standing alongside the Montreux Document, which addresses the international law obligations of governments to regulate private military and security companies. The Code’s anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on important achievements and key challenges to come. 

One of the most significant achievements has been the creation of the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA), which oversees compliance with the Code. The ICoCA has put in place rigorous certification, monitoring, and complaints procedures, measurably raising industry standards for private security companies. ICoCA has also increased membership and played an important outreach role in building awareness of the Code in the private sector and among civil society and intergovernmental organizations. 

DCAF has worked in partnership with ICoCA to support these developments. We have also developed innovative programmes to promote Code implementation on the ground. Through advisory services to more than 25 states, international and regional organisations, DCAF has built bridges between the international initiative, and national action. From Africa to Latin America, industry, clients, national authorities and civil society have been brought together to work towards an effective, well managed and accountable private security industry. 

Despite the progress made, much remains to be done to continue to improve the situation on the ground. For DCAF, three areas are particularly important:

  • Responding to the evolving role of the industry. Private security services have expanded significantly into sensitive areas such as critical infrastructure protection and surveillance. The COVID pandemic has provoked further changes as private security forces have taken on a new and unprecedented role in supporting governments implement and enforce public safety measures. Thought leadership and research are needed to understand these changes and ensure effective responses at international and national levels.
  • Better coordination to promote responsible business conduct. There are several international initiatives working to improve security and human rights, but a lack of coordination among them threatens to reduce their effectiveness on the ground. Pursuing greater coherence and joined up working is essential to success.
  • Achieving progress where security governance is weak.  The ultimate success of the Code will be measured by its contribution to progress on security sector governance. In the Global South, long term support is required to develop legal and policy frameworks and build the capacities of key stakeholders. More fundamentally, all these efforts must contribute to reinforcing relationships between national authorities, security providers and citizens.

DCAF has worked for more than fifteen years to promote good governance in the private security industry. On the 10th anniversary of the Code of Conduct, we take great pride in having played a part in its growth and have faith in its potential to continue to promote better regulation in the industry, and safer communities for all.    

Alan Bryden
Alan Bryden leads DCAF’s work on Business and Security, developing innovative partnerships with companies, governments and communities to improve security, sustainable development and respect for human rights. DCAF plays a leading role globally in promoting oversight and accountability of the private security industry. Through a partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross, DCAF engages actively to address security and human rights challenges related to companies operating in complex environments.