Comment by International Stability Operations Association on article “US employs former child soldiers as mercenaries”

Comment by International Stability Operations Association on article “US employs former child soldiers as mercenaries”

November 2012

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the International Stability Operations Association to provide a comment on the article “US employs former child soldiers as mercenaries,” Sybille Fuchs, World Socialist Web Site, 31 October 2012.  The ISOA Director Doug Brooks sent the following response:

“Obviously the article has a distinct political bias.  I’m not sure if it is using the ‘mercenary’ term in a derogatory sense or if they have a definition that they follow.  Using the UN definition the coalition in Afghanistan and U.S. in Iraq are certainly not using ‘mercenaries’ (in my presentations I often point out that the manner in which the more sensationalistic journalists and wobbly academics use the term, their real definition is ‘foreigners and business people we don’t like . . .’).  The ‘mercenary’ term is indefensible when evaluating the role of Private Security Companies (PSCs) in serious discourse.

There is a clear distinction between the role of the military and the tasks PSCs are hired to undertake.  Military forces in the field are guided by secret Rules of Engagement (ROE), which provide the legal guidelines for the military to engage proactively engage with lethal force and indicate when it is appropriate to achieve advance their mission. Security contractors are guided by the public Rules for the Use of Force (RUF), usually included as part of any contract for security companies. These rules allow for very limited and reactive use of force – self defense, protection of the person, place or thing they are hired to protect, and in most cases, protection of innocent civilians under mortal threat.

Unfortunately I have not seen the German documentary discussed in the article.  Personnel of all nationalities working directly or indirectly on U.S. government contracts are under the Defense Base Act (DBA) which provides insurance for all nationalities – the PSCs do NOT provide the insurance themselves and thus injuries are handled by insurance companies, not the PSCs.  DBA is a clunky and expensive system and the industry has been very critical of it in the past – we would fully support improvements the system.  Companies fielding the personnel do not get any payment for it, and industry experiences in ensuring timely claims for their impacted personnel has been generally poor.  Larger security firms will often set aside funds to cover such claims until months of paperwork get sorted out and reimbursements from the insurance companies can finally be completed for their employees.

On the issue of ‘former child soldiers’ – companies are required to do proper vetting of the personnel utilized in the field, and obviously a specialized training and professionalization as well. Contracts will include information on the acceptable backgrounds of the personnel hired, and companies are obliged to ensure the personnel are contractually complaint.  Unfortunately, the U.S. government has not always followed its own rules or done proper oversight – something that undermines the companies that commit the resources to carefully follow those rules.

The claim of ‘high profit margins’ is oft repeated but of course absurd.  This is a highly competitive industry and margins are remarkable narrow. Fixed price contracts (if all goes as predicted) may make 10% profits if lucky; cost plus anywhere from 1% to 5%.

Also, you may find ISOA’s own guidelines on hiring Third Country Nationals of interest – much of this is based on the ISOA Code of conduct which is available online:

Third Country Nationals Working in Conflict Areas:

What TCN Employees should expect from superior companies


The Private Sector in Iraq and elsewhere increasingly makes use of Third Country Nationals (TCNs), individuals often from less developed countries hired for their skill sets and capabilities.  In today’s competitive, globalized economy transnational companies look for cost-effective employees from around the world who can operate with skill and professionalism.  The use of TCNs offers an almost unlimited pool of talent and TCNs are often compensated with salaries several times their average national income.

Below are guidelines on rights, benefits and protections that TCNs should expect superior companies to follow.  Based on the International Stability Operations Association’s Code of Conduct, this list outlines the basic standards that all professional companies should follow when utilizing TCNs.


·        Companies must ensure that all their employees are fully informed regarding the level of risk associated with their employment, as well as the terms, conditions, and significance of their contracts.

·        Personnel must receive additional instruction about the applicable legal framework and regional sensitivities of the area of operation.

·        Foreign and local employees must be provided with health and life insurance policies appropriate to their wage structure and the level of risk of their service as required by law.

·        Companies must act responsibly and ethically toward all their employees, including ensuring employees are treated with respect and dignity and responding appropriately if allegations of employee misconduct arise.

·        Employees must receive equal treatment. Payment of different wages to different nationalities must be based on merit and national economic differential, and cannot be based on racial, gender or ethnic grounds.

·        An employee has the right to terminate his or her employment at any time. No company may retain the personal travel documents of its employees against their will.

·        Companies should provide all employees with the appropriate training, equipment and materials necessary to perform their duties.

·        Employees should expect background checks, especially looking at criminal records.

·        Employees should be provided copies of all contractual documentation in a language of fluency.

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