Expatriates and business travelers face significant risks around the world this year due to increased social activism, potential natural disasters, and continued risks from crime and terrorism. HR leaders need to ensure that all stakeholders are involved in creating -- and communicating -- detail-rich crisis-management policies and procedures.
The Arab spring, nuclear disaster in Japan and the worldwide financial crisis -- combined with other political and security issues -- made last year an "extremely turbulent" one for business travelers, expatriates and their organizations
That's according to Iain Donald, vice president and director of Global Risks Analysis for the Americas at Control Risks in the New York area.
During a recent webinar, Global Political and Travel Security Risks 2012: Looking Ahead, he said organizations need to take a fresh look at their security and travel policies and procedures in light of past and future global risks, which are becoming "more complex and interconnected."
Such risks require HR leaders to both increase area-specific awareness of these issues for their expatriates and business travelers, and create effective training, policies and procedures to ensure their safety, according to the experts at Control Risks and International SOS, who spoke during the webinar.
Weak global political leadership is undermining business and market confidence, he says, while anti-corporate and environmental activism is increasing. Natural disasters can both disrupt supply chains and endanger employees. And lack of effective medical treatment in some parts of the globe also poses challenges to organizations.
A Global Benchmarking Study, of 628 companies in 50 countries, by London-based International SOS -- which operates Travel Security Services, a joint venture with Control Risks -- found that the top 10 countries perceived as high risk were, in order: Mexico (due to drug-war homicides, said Pablo Weisz, regional security manager at Travel Security Services), Nigeria (kidnappings for ransom), Afghanistan (terrorism), India (medical and safety issues, especially traffic accidents), Pakistan (terrorism), Iraq (sectarian violence), Papua New Guinea (sub-par access to medical care), China (industrial espionage), Democratic Republic of the Congo (lack of access to medical care and unstable environment in eastern part of country) and Indonesia (terrorism).
The No. 1 placement of Mexico at that list, said Weisz, is probably a reflection of "the CNN effect" -- when media outlets "over-report" incidents in one country versus another -- and is not a reflection of its security risks vis a vis other countries in Latin and Central America.
That's not to say, however, that Mexico's security situation has not become a bigger issue over time, he said. In 2007, concerns about homicides and crime resulting from the drug war affected only cities along the U.S.-Mexico border; today it affects whole states along that border as well as the western state of Durango, the eastern state of Veracruz and the southern state of Guerrero.
In addition, in Monterey -- the industrial capital -- there has been a "rapid deterioration in its security environment," including not just drug-war homicides, but also kidnappings, extortion and street crime, he said.
Other places, including Mexico City, the Yucatan and tourist areas such as Cancun and Cabo San Lucas offer much lower risks, he said.
In Central America -- especially the "northern triangle," made up of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- there is an "alarming downward spiral in security conditions," said Nicholas Watson, head of the Americas Desk for Global Risks Analysis at Control Risks in London.
"While the direct threat to legitimate business is going to continue to be limited, obviously, crime will continue to mar the operating environment ... and security related costs for companies operating in those countries are likely to remain high this year," he said.
In addition, there has been "rising social unrest" in some countries, such as Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil, Watson said.
In creating appropriate "duty of care" policies and procedures, Weisz said, it's important to increase awareness for both expatriates and the managers "responsible for those employees" of security risks in as much specificity as possible -- including specifying higher-risk and lower-risk city areas, if possible.
"That's really going to help those on the ground feel that you are actually caring for their well-being because you have that level of detail," he said.
Other best practices, he said, are to include all stakeholders in creating crisis-management plans that set out "who is responsible if things would go wrong, so you can quickly activate [the plan] in a crisis situation."
Such plans, he said, should be country and region specific -- and all expatriates, business travelers and their managers should be aware of them.
HR leaders need to be "communicating, educating and training those people before they travel so they know how to react so that if they are faced by a criminal on the street and they are at gunpoint [they know] how to react without challenging the sense of control that the criminal might have," he said.
In addition, all traveling employees should be tracked by the organization -- and they should know that, in high-risk areas, they should only travel during the day and limit their travel except to and from work.
Organizations should also do their due diligence -- to make sure their overseas partners are not connected to organized crime.
John Rendeiro, vice president of Global Security and Intelligence at International SOS, added that briefings of traveling employees and their managers should begin as soon as travel is approved.
The preparation should include where the employee is going, how he or she will get there, who he or she will travel with, what security measures might be required, what the medical care situation is, what documentation is necessary, among other issues.
"You have to be able to track, inform and advise them, and essentially respond to them when ... they require assistance," Rendeiro said.