With travel back on the agenda, increased political unrest and global economic challenges, there have been predictions that cases of employee kidnap and ransom could be on the rise. Sarah Dennis looks at how HR can prepare.
Kidnap and ransom are not the sort of thing most HR professionals would expect to have to deal with in their day-to-day work. However, occurrences are far more common than many may think and have been predicted to increase. Risk consultancy Control Risks predicts ransom demands to increase through 2022 and beyond.
Part of the reason for kidnap and ransom happening more frequently than people realise is that they encompass a much wider set of circumstances than the term suggests.
Far from being just the worst-case scenario of an employee being taken hostage and held against their will, kidnap and ransom can happen virtually without any interaction with the individual at all.
Virtual kidnap is where the perpetrators claim to have taken someone they may have never even met. Threats and ransom demands are generally sent by phone or email, with the aim of securing transfer of funds electronically before the friends and family realise that their loved one is actually perfectly safe and well.
It is not uncommon for this crime to be committed against international employees, with the person being at greater risk because of their role overseas.
Other crimes that come under the term kidnap and ransom include the threat of extortion or being forcibly taken to a cash machine to withdraw money.
These too are happening more often with poverty a stimulus, particularly when coupled with areas of under-resourced law-enforcement. Africa, Asia and South America are all areas where this combination of circumstances make kidnap and ransom more likely.
However instances happen in all countries and the resurgence of travel since the pandemic, along with the increased cost of living, means that the risks are rising in all areas of the world, including the UK.
Mitigating the risk
The key for employers is to be aware of the risks in order to be able to mitigate against them. Each region, country, and locality has different risks so it is important to have prior knowledge of the area before sending employees into the field.
Managing global risk
There are experts in international travel safety who provide in-depth reports on the risk levels regarding political situations, crime levels, and conflicts within a region. They are also able to provide local knowledge on higher risk areas, and cultural dos and don’ts.
Most of us are fairly streetwise in our own town or city and know the areas where it is safe and those to avoid after dark, for example. Arriving in a new country, possibly with family alongside them, an employee is unlikely to have this level of knowledge, and their employer has a responsibility to provide access to guidance to help secure their safety.
The best solution is to take third party advice. This may be in person, or through online resources. Mobile apps are now available, providing on-the-ground, up-to-the-minute security information. These update more quickly than the Home Office website and can even have a built-in feature where evacuation is automatically instigated if the risks escalate.
The aim is to keep employees safe by providing as much information as possible to mitigate the risks, but it is important to also have support planned should a case of kidnap and ransom occur.
Response consultants are specialist security people who are experts in negotiating, and can be deployed immediately to any country to offer unlimited support to an employee and their family. Response consultants can assist someone taken by criminals and also for those held abroad by police or other officials.
Kidnap and ransom support should provide legal back-up in cases of political detention. The situation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was detained in Iran for six years on charges of spying has highlighted this issue.
While there are parts of the world where the risks are greater, kidnap and ransom happen in every country, including the UK.
There is no particular age or gender demographic that is at greater risk. It is wise, therefore, for an employer to ensure they have cover in place for all employees, and their family members. This will mean employees are supported in the worst case-scenario of actual kidnap, but also in the lesser but still extremely serious incidents of virtual kidnap or extortion.
Funding the ransom
Ultimately, the aim of kidnap and ransom, whether virtual or physical, is to extract funds from the employer or the family of the individual.
Kidnap and ransom are more common than most people think, and cases are predicted to increase.”
Employers need to consider how they would cover the cost, should a payment be made by the company or the employee’s family. Ransom demands are regularly paid for anything from several thousands of pounds to several millions of pounds.
Kidnap and ransom insurance will cover the reimbursement of this cost, and also the reimbursement if the money is taken whilst being delivered to the kidnappers – which is a regular occurrence.
Kidnap and ransom are more common than most people think, and cases are predicted to increase. It is key for employers and employees to be aware of such risks.
The more information and guidance that can be obtained, the more the risks are mitigated. Providing support also provides knowledge and reassurance, helping to keep employees safe and happy, at home and abroad.