Global travel risks covered

Global travel risks covered

In today’s ever-expanding global market, it’s becoming more and more important for organisations to look after their employees when travelling abroad. JACO DE KLERK looks at the challenges associated with this responsibility, the countries thought to present the most dangers and how travel risk can be mitigated.

While working abroad, employees may find themselves in unfamiliar environments that pose increased risks to their health, safety, security and well-being – and this transfers a Duty of Care onto organisations that send their workforce to foreign countries.

Duty of Care – as defined by International SOS, a global healthcare, medical and security assistance company – is the obligation that an organisation has to take care of its employees when travelling abroad on business.

Threats that might be encountered range from natural disasters and illness to extreme weather, accidents, hijacking, piracy, kidnapping, political unrest and even war – underlining the importance of Duty of Care to cross-border workers.

According to Lisbeth Claus, professor of global HR at Willamette University in America and author of the “Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management Global Benchmarking Study”, in the way the last decade was the decade of Asia, so the next decade will be the decade of sub-Saharan Africa.

This means more and more companies will be sending staff into this region. Claus’s study shows that sub-Saharan Africa has an overall Duty of Care score of 63. The baseline score for the globe as determined in the study is also 63.

The benchmarking procedure was developed and validated by compiling a checklist of 100 Duty of Care practices. These were subsequently grouped into 15 indicators, rolled up into the eight steps of the Integrated Duty of Care Risk Management Mode and then translated in overall country scores.

While the region’s baseline is on par with the world, the study’s findings suggest significant differences among employers in terms of their perceptions of the African continent. Many sub-Saharan African countries are seen as high-risk locations, with the main threats being infectious diseases and accidents. Because of this, employers in the region have a high awareness of their Duty of Care obligation towards employees, despite some of these countries not having any legislation in this regard.

Global travel risks covered As the world has a perception of sub-Saharan Africa, so this region’s respondents have their own views – and they regard certain countries as more high-risk than others. The countries seen as more dangerous (as perceived by sub-Saharan respondents) include China, South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Kenya, Namibia, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Colombia and Algeria.

These views, however, differ drastically from the overall rankings, with some of the identified countries not appearing in the study’s top 20 list. Among those omitted from the list are Mozambique, Kenya, Namibia, Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

There can be various explanations as to why this region’s respondents list so many countries on their own continent as among the most dangerous in the world. One reason, as suggested in the study, may be that sub-Saharan respondents are better informed in their assessments of African countries because they would receive more continent-related news than a global respondent. Despite the discrepancies, Africa is rated as being fairly high-risk by country risk experts.

Travel Security Services – a joint venture between International SOS and Control Risks; the world’s leading medical and security services company, and leading global risk consultancy firm, respectively – is providing services to companies operating on the continent and throughout the world.

According to Tim Willis, a regional security manager for Travel Security Services, travel risk management is a proactive, risk-based programme that establishes a clear and sustainable framework for an organisation to mitigate the risks associated with international travel and global assignments.

Travel risk management and Duty of Care responsibilities may involve some steep charges, but the benefits outweigh the costs. As Claus points out: “Prevention is much less costly than dealing with incidents, business continuity isn’t interrupted, it provides a competitive human capital advantage, and it protects a company’s reputation.”

One company that’s firmly implanting these practices is the MTN Group. This company was launched in 1994. It now has GSM licences in 21 countries, Internet service provider businesses in 13 countries and a presence spanning three continents, showing just how important Duty of Care and travel risk management is for the company.

According to Shauket Fakie, group executive: business risk management, the well-being of employees is of primary concern to the MTN Group. “We extend comprehensive benefits to mitigate against risks that our employees may be exposed to,” he says.

The benefits and assistance services the company offers form part of “The MTN Deal” employee value proposition launched in April 2011 – and, more specifically, the “MTN Safe for You” programme, which encompasses the company’s Duty of Care plan.

As part of this programme, MTN has linked up with International SOS and Control Risks. “In terms of this partnership, all MTN employees have access to a 24-hour international alarm centre for any medical, security, travel and crisis-related emergencies,” says Fakie.

He adds that these services ensure employees’ overall well-being, makes for a better trained and more prepared workforce, and contributes to the avoidance of costly incidents. It has also increased the company’s ability to attract and retain employees, has improved productivity and morale, enhanced its legal compliance and is contributing to the avoidance of future litigation.

“MTN’s strategy is to be the leader in emerging markets, which are usually perceived to be higher risk countries,” says Fakie. “Developing markets often present a unique set of challenges, but also offer substantial rewards.”

The alliance with International SOS and Control Risks makes MTN’s developing-market activities less risky.

But the “MTN Safe for You” programme has encountered some difficulties. “Buy-in from internal stakeholders poses some challenges,” says Fakie. “Especially when it comes to ownership across the various aspects to mobilise the required resources for implementation of MTN’s Duty of Care obligations.”

He adds that every Duty of Care plan needs to be localised to each operational area’s own risks, and the number of team members involved in these services – and the distances between them – adds to the challenges.

Despite these kinds of challenges, Duty of Care is something every company with international interests should be aware of and implement. The world is a global village, and with employees being an organisation’s greatest asset, a robust Duty of Care plan is something businesses need and will come to rely on.

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