UK: INNOCENTS ABROAD.

UK: INNOCENTS ABROAD. - Emerging markets are full of opportunities. And not just for businessmen but for terrorists, gangsters, kidnappers, muggers, pickpockets and the like. For the latter, foreign business travellers - with their combination of conspic

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Emerging markets are full of opportunities. And not just for businessmen but for terrorists, gangsters, kidnappers, muggers, pickpockets and the like. For the latter, foreign business travellers - with their combination of conspicuous wealth and gullibility - frequently offer tempting targets.

Witness the kidnapping of a Sanyo executive in Mexico. Also in recent months two French gas workers were murdered in Nigeria, and a Scottish lawyer was fatally caught up in a gangland shooting in St Petersburg.

New markets evidently mean new dangers - and for businesses as well as their employees.

'Companies going into new markets need to inform their employees of the risks,' points out Christopher Marquet of New York-based Kroll Associates' risk management division. Those which fail to take adequate safety steps may leave themselves open to legal action, should the unthinkable happen.

'We've gained a lot more clients in the last six months,' he adds. 'Every time there's a high-profile incident our phones start ringing off the hook.'

The dangers vary with the nature of the assignment, as Aubin Stewart Wilson of insurance brokers Willis Corroon's special contingency risks group, explains: 'In Columbia there are two or three kidnaps per day - there's definitely been growth in this area'. In the former Soviet Union, by contrast, 'extortion is more likely'. Length of stay, says Wilson, has an important bearing on the risk. The short-stay visitor is vulnerable to mugging and similar opportunist crimes. Kidnapping usually entails knowledge of the victim's movements, and tends to happen to people on long-term postings.

Wherever a company sends its employees, a few sensible steps will obviously minimise risk: speak to the Foreign Office about the country in question before setting off; carry a wallet with a few expired credit cards and a muggers' toll (around $50 in local currency); ensure that somebody knows your whereabouts at all times. In almost every case, according to Marquet, precautions involve common sense and adequate information rather than bodyguards.

Other specialists in the area think precautions may need to be fairly elaborate. Lee Shepherd, managing director of Manchester-based Freelance Close Protection, even goes so far as to recommend bodyguards in extreme circumstances. 'Companies should get a better idea of where they're sending people,' he insists. 'Their priority is getting a big order - employee safety often doesn't cross their minds.' In some places, at very least, 'it's better to be met at the airport', says Control Risks' Boris Starling.

'There have been people in Russia who have got into any old taxi and been stripped of their possessions - literally stripped naked.' Should anything of that kind seem to be on the cards, Starling advises 'determined cowardice' - if a jumpy teenage carjacker is pointing an AK-47 in your face, it is not the time for heroics.

But British business travellers would seem imperturbable lot. A survey conducted by Visa International last year found that only some 36% would be deterred by security risks. More than half the French respondents and over 60% of Swedes would think twice.

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