When Duty of Care Collides with Business Judgment: Part 1

High-Tech Leaders Talk D.O.C.

On a recent trip to Australia, I had the opportunity to talk with several clients at a rather high, policy-making level about their security policies.

As I was discussing Duty of Care with a chief security officer of a large financial institution, a topic was raised that I admit I had not given much thought to:  “What to do when evacuation of employees from a location means that the company may not be welcomed back to do business in the future?”

That’s a tough question. He explained that many situations involving governments, labor unions and cultures are addressed in these places more swiftly and even violently than we are used to in most of our societies. Rioting over a presidential election, work stoppages due to angry protests over human rights or other cultural issues are far more common in some parts of the world than others. Not surprisingly, some of these places are those which have newly-growing economies, rich natural resources to mine, or other opportunities that draw foreign investors, and therefore lots of business travelers and expat families.

In discussing one such currently developing situation, I wondered aloud when he was going to give the evacuate order for all his employees there. He patiently explained to me that the decision was not so easy. A decision to flee because of the potential of civil unrest could likely mean a one way ticket punched for the company out of that market.

“People don’t take kindly to the foreign investor that runs at the first sign of trouble, evacuating all their people and leaving the locals to fight it out,” he said. “If you leave, you need to consider the possibility that you won’t be welcomed back. Or if you do go back, your reputation will have been damaged.”

Besides how it appears to outsiders, you also need to think about how it looks within your own company,” he added. “Local workers who were born and raised in that place likely don’t have the ability to leave for safer ground. When I issue an executive order to evacuate all expats – most of whom are management – it can create a serious cultural divide in the very fabric of our own organization. Such an action clearly paints management as a group of outsiders who runs while the rest of the group has to stick it out. It doesn’t smell good.”

I later went back and revisited the situation with Marcus McRitchie, Region Sales Director – Corporate Segment, International SOS Australasia in Sydney. He told me that a large part of the security membership services International SOS provides to heads of risk and safety for multinational AUS region clients is devising specific plans for protecting individuals while protecting the business of the company as well. Duty of Care is good for your people but also good for your business.

Next week, we’ll hear directly from Marcus on considerations in these situations, as well as best practices.

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