Clive Stoddart warns that companies which fail to educate employees on the dangers of kidnap could be exposing themselves to legal action - but individuals need to take responsibility too.

While the focus in the past has been on Latin American countries as those where kidnap and ransom is particularly rife, recent incidents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti and Nigeria have highlighted the fact that other regions of the world are equally, if not even more, dangerous. It is therefore imperative that companies who send their employees abroad on business, or who have staff located in operations overseas, wherever that might be, should take serious account of this risk and ensure that they are doing all they can to protect their staff.

The dilemma for such companies is that no matter how good their plans and procedures are, it is impossible to control where an employee might be 24 hours a day. So, the inevitable question is where does corporate responsibility end and personal liability start?

If a company sends employees who have not been given the appropriate training or preparation in its widest sense, to a part of the world where they could be at risk of kidnap, that company could find itself exposed to a greater degree of liability in the event of a problem. While a kidnap and ransom (K&R) insurance policy will typically provide liability cover, no corporation will want to find itself dragged into expensive and time-consuming legal action. Corporations with overseas travellers and expatriate employees need to be able to prove to themselves, their staff and their staff's families that they have a procedure in place to contract expert advice and to manage situations as they develop with almost no consideration for the time or cost involved.

But there is only so much a company can do before it becomes dependent on the individual's own actions. In addition to any plans and procedure the company itself may have in place, it is also imperative to ensure that staff are well versed in what they are expected to do in order to protect themselves. There have been a number of recent incidents where a mixture of a little more common sense on the part of individuals and additional preparation on the part of corporations might have avoided kidnaps.

Taking defensive measures

There are many defensive measures a company can take, such as ensuring that employees stay in reputable hotels, providing protection or transportation in bullet proof cars where necessary, making them aware of the safe and not so safe areas of town, common scams and other examples where common sense should prevail. For example, many of my own firm's clients have made it corporate policy that all staff arriving at a foreign airport are personally collected and taken direct to their hotel. To have someone picked up and delivered in this way is to know that they have arrived safely. However, that person also has to know what to do if things do not go according to plan, say for instance, that the driver does not turn up. It is not enough to rely on just one course of action. There should also be a contingency plan.

There is also a wide range of services provided by companies such as Control Risks, which can help with crisis management planning. These include an online service which provides country data, updated on a daily basis, giving information to first time visitors as well as looking at political situations that might affect the security of employees either living in or travelling to certain parts of the world. It details what is happening around the world and where the safe and not so safe places are - for example, where demonstrations might be planned that people should try to avoid.

Other services include a system which gives 24 hour access to people who can offer advice and help in the event of a crisis, and a travel tracker system which can be used in the event that something does go wrong, such as a coup or an incident of terrorism. This enables the company to tell how many people it has in the affected region so it can evaluate the scale of its problem and its liability.

By subscribing to these and other services, many of our clients have created extensive crisis management plans which cover just about everything from what might happen at one of their operations to how they could deal with specific incidents, such as kidnap, extortion or hijack. If something did happen, these clients should know exactly what to do down to the detail of which telephone numbers to call and in what sequence to trigger crisis management teams, external advice and so on.

As part of their planning, companies also need to ensure that staff follow clearly-defined guidelines, specifying, for instance, that they always stay in reputable hotels, that they take proper taxis and not rogue taxis and that they do not go into inappropriate areas or drink in isolated bars late at night.

The only thing lacking at this point is training - often with the use of simulated incidents. Companies who have trained their crisis management teams to the point where they know that the theory also works in practice, will be better prepared for the actual event and its aftermath. Staff being placed in dangerous surroundings should also have a degree of preparation on how to avoid incidents and how to survive a kidnap.

Many kidnaps are spontaneous, taking advantage of individuals being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but there is evidence in some parts of the world of criminal gangs deliberately looking for victims to kidnap. Mexico, Colombia, Iraq, Haiti and Nigeria are all examples of current hot spots. Many of these gangs start out as amateurs, but become more sophisticated with practice. Getting that practice means that they run a greater risk of being caught, but this does not seem to deter them, partly because many are often high on drugs.

Media hype is also helping to provoke the problem. Nigeria is a prime example, where news of the recent, highly publicised kidnappings of oil company employees has grabbed the attention of the world. Fairly unsophisticated criminal elements who started life with a gripe about the oil companies in their region have now developed their activities into kidnapping, not only to make money, but also as a way of getting the world to take notice.

While media hype is highlighting some areas as being particularly dangerous, there are other areas equally as dangerous or even more so which are not receiving the same publicity. Political parties have used the media to give the impression that the risk of kidnap is reducing. Certain countries in Latin America in particular have become quite clever at manipulating the press to keep incidents of kidnapping out of the news, thereby giving the impression that the problem has at least diminished, if not gone away altogether. Manipulation of the media can be particularly prevalent at elections, when opposing parties will either talk the risk up or down according to their own agenda.

Kidnap and ransom cover

No matter how thorough preparation and training has been, or how rigorous a crisis management plan is, everything eventually depends on people making their own sensible judgement as to what they should and should not be doing, and what they can and cannot do to avoid placing themselves in a situation where they could be exposed to the risk of kidnap. This is an element beyond the control of the employer and is where a kidnap and ransom (K&R) insurance policy will serve to complement the other aspects of planning and preparation.

While a K&R policy will provide additional reassurance for the corporation concerned, the confidentiality surrounding a K&R policy means that companies are prevented from informing their staff, or anyone else, that they have such cover. A breach of this confidentiality may void the policy. Therefore, employees not only need to be made properly aware of the dangers they may face and to be trained in how to deal with any situations that may arise, they also need to be reassured that their employer will do everything to look after them before, during and after an incident should it occur.

Aon provides two types of K&R policy: corporate protection which typically covers directors, officers and employees of publicly-owned commercial companies, and special risk protection, which provides cover for private families, individuals and groups of shareholders (plus families) of privately owned companies on a named person basis only. Both policies have three main elements:

1. Prevention offering security advice documents to help minimise exposure to risk, and assistance for risk prevention training.

2. Reimbursement providing financial reimbursement of costs associated with insured events, to the policy limit.

3. Consultation guaranteed, immediate access to specialist kidnap response consultants who will advise on the issues that need to be addressed to obtain the safe release of the victim. The fees and expenses of these consultants are unlimited following an insured incident.

The interaction between robust corporate plans and philosophy on the one hand and a K&R policy on the other is, in effect, a good catch all solution, although it still relies on people being responsible for their own actions.

Clive Stoddart is managing director, Asset Security Management division, Aon Ltd,
Three key elements of kidnap risk mitigation

- Regularly monitor events around the world and ensure that staff have the protection needed commensurate with the dangers inherent in the areas in which they are travelling or working.

- Set strict guidelines on how employees should behave and make sure that they are fully aware of those guidelines and that they know what to do should things not go according to plan or should an incident occur

- Set up a detailed crisis management plan complemented by a K&R policy.