Security-Related Human Rights—Correct Risk Management for All Scenarios

By examining two very different security-risk environments, this paper will illustrate how easily security-related human-rights risks can go unnoticed unless care is taken early in the risk-management process.


Recently, significant improvement has been made in the way companies understand and conduct their corporate social responsibility practices. Many companies now actively engage in social initiatives, environmental issues, local employment, and stakeholder engagement. Increasingly, human rights issues are recognized as something that must be addressed both strategically and operationally. More specifically among human rights issues, risks from security-related human rights (SRHR) are more frequently identified and mitigated. However, this is not always the case and it is not unusual for these risks to be overlooked or ignored, particularly in a more benign security environment. 

By examining two very different security-risk environments, this paper will illustrate how easily SRHR risks can go unnoticed unless care is taken early in the risk-management process. In addition, the paper presents key tools designed to help mitigate the risks and determine who is suited to implement these measures. 

The paper will show that it is possible to identify and mitigate SRHR risks as long as companies adopt the correct approach and support.

Despite the major challenges faced by oil and gas companies operating in high-risk environments, they generate economic activity that is vital to achieving development and peace. This is particularly true when one considers the positive effect of SRHR training for public security deployed to protect oil and gas assets, as well as private security companies. By encouraging and training local forces the correct way to behave in a security situation, human-rights standards for both the local community at risk and the military unit being trained improves. Oil companies must always insist they live up to the same standards abroad as they would expect at home. However, in the West, where the overall security situation would normally be low, overlooking the risks companies face regarding SRHR and the security unit protecting the asset can be quite easy. With proper preparation and training, both at home and abroad, those risks can be mitigated. 

Often, oil companies operate in areas of interstate conflict, where security personnel are necessary to guard the operations. These security personnel are either state or private security forces (local or foreign). In many cases, the use of public security is insisted upon by the authorities, and frequent practice includes having security arrangements between the companies and the state. Often, these deployed troops will move around the local area when off duty, interacting with the local communities and at times causing discontent. This can rapidly escalate into disorder. Similarly, an overreaction by security forces to any sort of security incident can create further trouble within communities, destroy any goodwill created between the company and the community, and potentially cause significant reputational damage to the company. Equally, in the West, an overreaction to demonstrators (for example) by police or private security contractors could result in injury or death to the victims, increasing the risk of further demonstrations, which generates further publicity and causes untold damage to the company’s reputation, possibly even halting operations.

In August 2012, images of the tragic Marikana shooting in South Africa, which left 34 miners dead and 78 others wounded, were seen around the world. Although some doubt exists as to what triggered the incident, what cannot be disputed is the catastrophic reputational damage both the South Africa police and the mining company suffered in the aftermath. While one can surmise that an incident such as the Marikana shooting occurring in the West is unlikely, extractive industries will always have a degree of negative feeling directed toward them, and, if the associated SRHR risks are not correctly assessed and—if required—mitigating measures are not implemented, the chance always exists of an overreaction to an incident. 

This paper will clarify what SRHR responsibility rests with the state and what obligations are faced by companies. This task was made easier with the introduction of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by the United Nations by assigning these responsibilities. These principles will be discussed in this paper. Teh paper explores what is required to reduce the risk of a SRHR incident occurring during an operation. This will be achieved by discussing the use of SRHR risk assessments and why including the identified risks in the security risk assessment help reduce the many hazards faced by companies. The paper also will discuss who requires this type of human-rights training and who should conduct it. The two groups most suited to implementing the mitigating measures on behalf of an oil and gas company—nongovernmental organizations and private security companies—will be scrutinized, as will a key initiative for helping SRHR training, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, membership of which is open to all extractive industries. IPIECA, a petroleum industry organization that promotes good practices to help the industry improve its social performance, will also be examined.

By looking at two different types of operational scenarios—an offshore drilling operation in East Africa (assuming an overall high security risk) deploying armed naval personnel and a western, unarmed private security company and a shale gas operation in the UK (assuming an overall low security risk) using a private, unarmed security company—identifying the key differences and similarities in requirements for operations facing different risk levels is possible. 

The paper concludes that most onshore, near-shore, and offshore operational locations using security personnel should conduct an SRHR risk assessment, although the detail required will vary significantly depending on the risk levels. Even when the threat is low, an overreaction by untrained security forces could have devastating consequences for the company as well as for the demonstrators. 

However, by liaising and listening to communities and with sufficient determination and preparation, identifying and implementing the most effective SRHR mitigating measures required for all operations is possible. 

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