exponential growth of the private military and security industry at the international level correlates with a growing acceptance of the use of private security companies (PSC) at the national level. Independent studies reveal that the private security industry in Europe and the USA, the majors exporters of private military and security companies’ (PMSC) services in the world, starts in the 1970s, and has grown with little public notice, an average of 10 % per year.

The latest example of this trend towards security privatization can currently be observed in the biggest sportive event of the year: the Olympic Games in London 2012 and the the subsequent Paralympic Games. Indeed, the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), depends on a combination of police, military forces and private security companies for the tasks of security and access control in public areas of the olympic premises with a total staff strength of 23.700 and 3.000 additional volunteers. The high level of privatization is obvious if one looks at the proportion of armed forces and public police versus private security contractors. The British Ministry of Defense has announced that is contributing 17.000 soldiers to this task. G4S Secure Solutions, the official private supplier of security registered and based in the UK, hired 13.700 people for the event. This measure is in line with the broader strategy of collaboration between the local Olympic Committee and G4S which under the name Bridging the Gap aims to select and attract qualified students from different academic institutions in the United Kingdom to the security industry by working in related tasks during the Olympic Games (OG).

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The Olympic Games represent the largest security operation in peacetime which takes place in United Kingdom in a long time. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that two weeks before the start of the Games, the news about  G4S‘s inability to provide the planned number of security staff, have raised the alarm throughout the country. The government immediately announced that it will deploy 3.500 soldiers to overcome the shortage of personnel trained by G4S, and the company has apologized publicly and has accepted a decrease of wage between £35 to 40 millions in its contract as official supplier valued at £284 millions. In its official declaration, G4S justified the stumble with the difficulties encountered in managing the large number of candidates through the training, monitoring and accreditation process. However, sources such as The Guardian and Corpwatch inform about the inadequacies in the recruitment process and irregularities in the requirements of qualifications. Special outrage was heard about the missing requirement of The Security Industry Authority (SIA) license which the company did not ask for all its employees. According to the information published on the webpage of SIA, the agency responsible for the compulsory licensing of PSC in United Kingdom, it is a crime to work in United Kingdom without the above mentioned license for public protection tasks. The status of G4S as a LOCOG official security provider, however, exempts employees of that license when deployed in official Olympic venues and if holding an official accreditation card. Nevertheless, SIA notes that this exemption recognizes that the criteria for the operation of these individuals must be equal to that required for a SIA’s license, and they should be trained, monitored and accredited by the LOCOG.

G4S Security Solutions is a company broadly consolidated in the market for private security and military assistance. In the United Kingdom, it has contributed to large-scale sports events such as Wimbledon, the Ryder Cup and the Gran Prix, and has been the company responsible for the security of the Olympic Park since 2008. In its international activity, it has provided protection services among others in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan either directly or through its affiliate companies. One of them, ArmorGroup, starred one of the best known incidents in the field of private security during the Iraq war: the Fitzsimons case. Daniel Fitzsimons, a company employee, was the first private contractor convicted by an Iraqi court to 20 years in prison for the deadly shooting of two fellow contractors and an injured Iraqi guard at a base of the Green Zone in Baghdad in August 2009. The case also revealed deficiencies in the recruitment process of the company, Fitzsimons was recruited by the company without the appropriate medical examination, which would have confirmed a diagnosis of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as a consequence of his past experience as a British armed force member deployed in Kosovo. The family of Fitzsimons accused the company for negligence when facilitating fire arms to somebody with that psychiatric condition. Moreover, other cases of convicted G4S employees in Afghanistan ended in conviction for bribery.

The circumstances surrounding the G4S case can easily be extrapolated to other companies within the sector. In USA, for instance, in view of the several serious incidents involving PMSC, the Commission on Wartime Contracting has been discussing the need of improving the contracting and monitoring law of those companies by public bodies and bearing in mind also, for example, the large amount of incidents and Human Rights violations implicit to the sector’s practices in formalizing or renewing working contracts. So far, it seems that the British government and the LOCOG have decided not to increase the criteria and evaluation of G4S’s past activities since the company is currently serving as the official security supplier for the Olympic Games. As we have seen, the first scandals already arose before the start of the big sports event.

Security privatization in public functions are being consolidated in Europe: in the United Kingdom private civil service have been used in prisons for decades and Spain has recently announced similar measures. In the wake of these trends, it is high time States developed a national regime of supervision and regulation, including licensing and authorization procedures, with appropriate safeguards and rigorous due diligence measures.

© Featured picture from: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor