The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights


Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom, companies in the extractive and energy sectors (“Companies”), and non-governmental organisations, all with an interest in human rights and corporate social responsibility, have engaged in a dialogue on security and human rights.

The participants recognize the importance of the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the world and the constructive role business and civil society – including non-governmental organisations, labour/trade unions, and local communities – can play in advancing these goals. Through this dialogue, the participants have developed the following set of voluntary principles to guide Companies in maintaining the safety and security of their operations within an operation framework that ensures respect for human rights and fundamental freedom. Mindful of these goals, the participants agree to the importance of continuing this dialogue and keeping under review these principles to ensure their continuing relevance and efficacy.

  • Acknowledging that security is a fundamental need, shared by individuals, communities, businesses, and governments alike, and acknowledging the difficult security issues face by Companies operating globally, we recognize that security and respect for human rights can and should be consistent;
  • Understanding that governments have the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights and that all parties to a conflict are obliged to observe applicable international humanitarian law, we recognize that we share the common goal of promoting respect for human rights, particularly those set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international humanitarian law.
  • Emphasizing the importance of safeguarding the integrity of company personnel and property, companies recognize a commitment to act in a manner consistent with the laws of the countries within which they are present, to be mindful of the highest applicable international standards, and to promote the observance of applicable law enforcement principles (e.g. the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials), particularly with regard to the use of force.
  • Taking note of the effect that Companies’ activities may have on local communities, we recognize the value of engaging with civil society, host and home governments to contribute to the welfare of the local community while mitigating any potential for conflict where possible;
  • Understanding that useful, credible information is a vital component of security and human rights, we recognize the importance of sharing and understanding our respective experiences regarding, inter alia, best security practices and procedures, country human rights situations, and public and private security, subject to confidentiality constraints.
  • Acknowledging that home governments and multilateral institutions may, on occasion, assist host governments with security sector reform, developing institutional capacities and strengthening the rule of law, we recognize the important role Companies and civil society can play in supporting these efforts.

The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights: Risk Assessment

The ability to assess accurately risks present in a Company’s operation environment is critical to the security of personnel. Local communities and assets; the success of the company’s short and long-term operations; and to the promotion and protection of human rights. In some circumstances, this is relatively simple; in other, it is important to obtain extensive background information from different sources; monitoring and adapting to changing, complex political, economic, law enforcement, military and social situations; and maintaining productive relations with local communities and government officials.

The quality of complicates risk assessments are largely dependent on the assembling of regularly updated, credible information from a broad range of perspectives – local and national governments, security firms, other companies, home governments, multilateral institutions, and civil society knowledgeable about local conditions. This information may be most effective when shared to the fullest extent possible (bearing in mind confidentiality considerations) between Companies, concerned civil society, and governments.

Bearing in mind these general principles, we recognize that accurate, effective risk assessments should consider the following factors:

  • Identification of security risks. Security risks can result from political, economic, civil or social factors. Moreover, certain personnel and assets may be at greater risk than others. Identification of security risks allows a Company to take measures to minimize risk and to assess whether Company actions may heighten risk.


  • Potential of violence. Depending on the environment, violence can be widespread or limited to particular regions, and it can develop with little or no warning. Civil society, home and host government representatives, and other sources should be consulted to identify risks presented by the potential for violence. Risk assessments should examine patterns of violence in areas of company operations for educational, predictive, and preventative purposes.


  • Human rights records. Risk assessments should consider the available human rights records of public security forces, paramilitaries, local and national law enforcement, as well as the reputation of private security. Awareness of past abuses and allegations can help Companies to avoid recurrences as well as to promote accountability. Also, identification of the capability of the above entities to respond to situations of violence in a lawful manner (i.e. consistent with the applicable international standards) allows Companies to develop appropriate measures in operating environments.


  • Rule of law. Risk Assessments should consider the local prosecuting authority and judiciary’s capacity to hold accountable those responsible for human rights abuses and for those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law in a manner that respects the rights of the accused.


  • Conflict analysis. Identification of and understanding the root causes nature of local conflicts, as well as the level of adherence to human rights and international humanitarian law standards by key actors, can be instructive for the development of strategies for managing relations between the Company, local communities, Company, Company employees and their unions, and host governments. Risk Assessments should also consider the potential for future conflicts.


  • Equipment transfers. Where Companies provide equipment (including lethal and non-lethal equipment) to public or private security, they should consider the risk of such transfers, any relevant export licensing requirements, and the feasibility of measures to mitigate foreseeable negative consequences, including adequate controls to prevent misappropriation or diversion of equipment which may lead to human rights abuses. In making risk assessments, companies should consider any relevant past incidents involving previous equipment transfers.

The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights: Interactions between Companies and Public Security

Although governments have the primary role of maintaining law and order, security and respect for human rights, Companies have an interest in ensuring that actions taken by governments, particularly the actions of public security providers, are consistent with the protection and promotion of human rights. In cases where there is a need to supplement security provided by host governments, Companies may be required or expected to contribute to, or otherwise reimburse, the costs of protecting Company facilities and personnel borne by public security. While public is expected to act in a manner consistent with local and national laws as well as with human rights standards and international humanitarian law, within this context abuses may nevertheless occur.

In an effort to reduce the risk of such abuses and to promote respect for human rights generally, we have identified the following voluntary principles to guide relationships between Companies and public security regarding security provided to Companies:

Security Arrangements

  • Companies should consult regularly with host governments and local communities about the impact of their security arrangements on those communities.


  • Companies should communicate their policies regarding ethical conduct and human rights to public service providers, and express their desire that security be provided in a manner consistent with those policies by personnel with adequate and effective training.


  • Companies should encourage host governments to permit making security arrangements transparent and accessible to the public, subject to any overriding safety and security concerns.


Deployment and Conduct

  • The primary role of public security should be to maintain the rule of law, including safeguarding human rights and deterring acts that threaten Company personnel and facilities. The type and number of public security forces deployed should be competent, appropriate and proportional to the threat.


  • Equipment imports and exports should comply with all the applicable laws and regulations. Companies that provide equipment to public security should take all appropriate and lawful measures to mitigate any foreseeable negative consequences, including human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.


  • Companies should use their influence to promote the following principles with public security: (a) individuals credibly implicates in human rights abuses should not provide security services for Companies; (b) force should be used only when strictly necessary and to an extent proportional to the threat; and (c) the rights of individuals should not be violated while exercising the right to exercise freedom of association and peaceful assembly, the right to engage in recognized bargaining, or other related rights of Company employees as recognized by the Universal declaration of Human Rights and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.


  • In cases where physical force is used by public security, such incidents should be reported to the appropriate authorities and the Company. Where force is used, medical aid should be provided to injured persons, including to offenders.


Consultation and Advice

  • Companies should hold structured meeting with public security on a regular basis to discuss security, human rights and related workplace safety issues. Companies should also consult regularly with other Companies, host and home governments, and civil society to discuss security and human rights. Where Companies operating in the same region have common concerns, they should consider collectively raising those concerns with the host and home governments.


  • In their consultations with the host governments, Companies should take all appropriate measures to promote observance of applicable international law enforcement principles, particularly those reflected in the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms.


  • Companies should support efforts by governments, civil society and multilateral institutions to provide human rights training and education for public security as well as their efforts to strengthen state institutions to ensure accountability and respect human rights.


Responses to Human Rights Abuses

  • Companies should record and report any credible allegations of human rights abuses by public security in their areas of operation to appropriate host government authorities. Where appropriate, Companies should urge investigation and that action be taken to prevent any recurrence.


  • Companies should actively monitor the status of investigations and press for their proper resolution.


  • Companies should, to the extent reasonable, monitor the use of equipment provided by the company and to investigate properly situations in which such equipment is used in an inappropriate manner.


  • Every effort should be made to ensure that information used as the basis for allegations of human rights abuses is credible and based on reliable evidence. The security and safety of sources should be protected. Additional or more accurate information that may alter previous allegations should be made available as appropriate to concerned parties.

The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights: Interactions between Companies and Private Security

Where host governments are unable or unwilling to provide adequate security to protect a Company’s personnel or assets, it may be necessary to engage private security providers as a complement to public security. In this context, private security may have to coordinate with state forces (law enforcement, in particular), in order to carry weapons and to consider the defensive local use of force. Given the risks associated with such activities, we recognize the following voluntary principles to guide private security conduct:

  • Private security should observe the policies of the contracting Company regarding ethical conduct and human rights; the law and professional standards of the country in which they operate; emerging best practices developed by industry civil society, and governments; and promote the observance of international humanitarian law.


  • Private security should maintain high levels of technical and professional proficiency, particularly with regard to local use of force and firearms.


  • Private security should act in a lawful manner. They should exercise restraint and caution in a manner consistent with applicable international guidelines regarding the local use of force, including UN Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, as well as with emerging best practices developed by Companies, civil society, and governments.


  • Private Security should have policies regarding appropriate conduct and the local use of force (e.g. rules of engagement). Practice under these policies should be capable of being monitored by Companies or, where appropriate, by independent third parties. Such monitoring should encompass detailed investigations into allegations of abusive or unlawful acts; the availability of disciplinary measures sufficient to prevent and deter; and procedures for reporting allegations to relevant local law enforcement authorities when appropriate.


  • All allegations of human rights abuses by private security should be properly investigates. In those cases where allegations against private security providers are forwarded to the relevant law enforcement authorities, Companies should actively monitor the status of investigations and press for their proper resolution.


  • Consistent with their function, private security should provide only preventative and defensive services and should not engage in activities exclusively the responsibility of state military or law enforcement authorities. Companies should designate services, technology and equipment capable of offensive and defensive purposes as being for defensive use only.


  • Private security should (a) not employ individuals credibly implicated in human rights abuses to provide security services; (b) use force only when strictly necessary and to an extent proportional to the threat; and (c) not violate rights of individuals while exercising the right to exercise freedom of association and peaceful assembly, to engage in collective bargaining, or other related rights of Company employees as recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at work.


  • In cases where physical force is used, private security should properly investigate and report the incident to the Company. Private security should refer the matter to local authorities and/or take disciplinary action where appropriate. Where force is used, medical aid should be provided to injured persons, including the offenders.


  • Private security should maintain confidentiality of information obtained as a result of its position as security provider, except where to do so would jeopardize the principles contained herein.


To minimize the risk that private security exceeds; their authority as providers of security, and to promote respect for human rights generally, we have developed the following additional voluntary principles and guidelines:

  • Where appropriate, Companies should include the principles outlined above as contractual provisions in agreements with private security personnel are adequately trained to respect the rights of employees and the local community. To the extant practicable, agreements between Companies and private security should require investigation of unlawful or abusive behaviour and appropriate disciplinary action. Agreement should also permit termination of the relationship by Companies where there is credible evidence of unlawful or abusive behaviour by private security personnel.


  • Companies should consult and monitor private security providers to ensure they fulfil their obligations to provide security in a manner consistent with the principles outlined above. Where appropriate, Companies should seek to employ private security providers that are representative of the local population.


  • Companies should review the background of private security they intend to employ, particularly with regards to the use of excessive force. Such reviews should include an assessment of previous services provided to the host government and whether these services raise concern about the private security firm’s dual role as a private security provider and government contractor.


  • Companies should consult with other Companies, home country officials, host country officials, and civil society regarding experiences with private security. Where appropriate and lawful, Companies should facilitate the exchange of information about unlawful activity and abuses committed by private security providers.