On January 30 I wrote a post regarding sexual violence by private contractors. Though the most flagrant instances have occurred in the past, it is still a problem.
Although I was not singling out any company in particular I did mention DynCorp because it served as the inspiration for the movie The Whistleblower that came out last year. This relates to the infamous cases of sex trafficking and slavery in Bosnia back in the Balkan wars of the nineties.
Okay, stuff happens. Although other things have happened with DynCorp, more specifically the DynCorp International division, over the years, it is a big company and employs lots of people. One should not tar every company with the sins of a past employee.
As big corporations go DynCorp, in my limited experience, is very decent. Full disclosure: years ago, I worked three years for one of its arms control units, not DynCorp International, and found the people there highly professional and very ethical.
Still, my past post evidently did not go down well at DynCorp HQ. I was emailed a response by one of their vice presidents taking me to task for my presumed sins. At the request of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre in London, which had listed my post in their weekly update, they emailed a similar response to them.
I fully understand that DynCorp wants to put the best possible face on this issue but I feel its response is a little too self-serving so let me just do some parsing of some of its statement.
With regard to the movie it writes,
'The Whistleblower' centers on allegations of human trafficking, a serious crime and global problem. Although the Company was never contacted by the filmmakers to obtain even a basic description of past work in Bosnia, to fact-check allegations or to obtain our position on these issues, when the Company reached out to the representatives for the filmmakers to gain more information about the movie, we were informed that the film, in the distributor's words, 'is a fictionalized, dramatic presentation.
I realize that in times long past it was popular to kill the messenger but that is supposedly out of fashion nowadays. DynCorp seems to think the filmmaker, who is Larysa Kondracki, had an obligation to contact them to get their spin. She did not. The company in the movie was named Democra Security, not DynCorp. The fact that events in the movie were loosely based on what some DynCorp contactors did in Bosnia does not impose any more obligation on Kondracki than the producers of the Law & Order television series have when they produce an episode which is "ripped from the headlines." Life in conflict zones is real enough without DynCorp confusing fiction with fact.
The allegations raised by an employee of a predecessor company more than 10 years ago were thoroughly investigated, and were aggressively and responsibly addressed. At that time and in the years that followed, Army Criminal Investigative Command (CID) authorities, the Inspectors General of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of State, and the Company all investigated allegations related to human trafficking. According to a statement made by a CID Special Agent, 'neither DynCorp nor its employees were involved' in human trafficking, and the investigator found the Company to be 'extremely cooperative and helpful' throughout his investigation.
Well, talk is easy, facts are something else. As for "thoroughly investigated" and "neither DynCorp nor its employees were involved' in human trafficking," in 2005 Sarah E. Mendelson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, published a 76-page report Barracks and Brothels: Peacekeepers and Human Trafficking in the Balkans. She wrote, starting on page 36:
The misperception that trafficking victims were voluntary prostitutes was shared not only by contractors but also by the DOD/IG investigators auditing contractor involvement in trafficking. Following the publication of the article "DynCorp Disgrace" in Insight Magazine, a team inside the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office was assigned from March 2002 through July 2002 to audit DynCorp's "suitability and capability to perform and its procedures for selecting and screening personnel."78 The Insight article described DynCorp employees "buying young girls and women as sex slaves." This article was not about prostitution but about a former DynCorp employee filing a lawsuit in which he described being fired after he informed the Criminal Investigation Division of the U.S. Army (CID) of contractor involvement with human trafficking. The employee described a pornographic videotape in which the manager of the contract appeared to rape a female. The manager of the contract also arranged for other DynCorp employees to purchase females.79
Note the language here. Even after publication of the article the DOD IG was not investigating DynCorp for involvement in sex trafficking or slavery but for its "suitability and capability to perform and its procedures for selecting and screening personnel."
Mendelson also noted that:
The DOD audit was published in September 2002 and concluded that "DynCorp International has reasonable procedures for selecting and screening its personnel." The report also concluded that "contracting officials did not, and, as a general rule, do not, address the moral character of a contractor's employees."81 The body of the report makes no reference to several salient facts, including that:
• the CID had investigated DynCorp employees' purchasing of women as chattel,
which is illegal both internationally and in Republika Srpska, a province within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina;
• human trafficking undermined the SFOR mission while it financially benefited
• DynCorp in Bosnia fired another whistleblower who was reporting that additional
DynCorp employees were allegedly engaged in trafficking-related crimes;
• CID investigators "uncovered evidence of direct contractor involvement in trafficking."82
According to Mendelson the official military response was flawed.
By referencing the "moral character" of employees, the audit team appeared unaware of the seriousness of the crimes the CID had investigated. The conclusion also trivialized the experiences of the trafficked women and girls bought by DynCorp employees in Bosnia. That the audit team never went to Bosnia but based their report on a review of "computer-processed data" and interviews inside the Department of Defense and at DynCorp Headquarters, the U.S. Defense Contract Management Agency, the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, and the DynCorp International office in Fort Worth, Texas, may have affected the assessment. Only in Appendix B is there reference to trafficking and to the fact that the U.S. Army CID had investigated DynCorp. It notes that "based upon the evidence obtained from the CID investigation, DynCorp fired two individuals."83 Appendix C shows a letter of agreement that employees are required to sign that prohibits "any unauthorized involvement in trafficking of persons." There was no evidence that DOD/IG investigated how codes of conduct had been enforced or would be enforced in the future.
In other words, the DOD audit was formulaic.
In its response DynCorp wrote:
In addition to cooperating fully with the CID investigation, the Company conducted its own investigation. The investigation did not find any evidence of human trafficking involving the Company, but did find areas where improvements could be made.
If Dyncorp saw no evidence of human trafficking it is only because it was doing a world class imitation of the "See No Evil" monkey." The British legal system was able to see where DynCorp dared not gaze. On August 1, 2002, a British employment tribunal found that DynCorp had unfairly dismissed employee, Kathy Bolkovac, an employee who had blown the whistle on the trafficking and was fired for her efforts. DynCorp appealed and then eventually paid £110,221 to her.
A 2002 Human Rights Watch report [PDF] noted that, "In 1999, DynCorp repatriated five employees from SFOR installations after allegations emerged that they had purchased women. A DynCorp manager stated that the contractors were "buying girls out from... slavery with the intention of marriage."
But Ben Johnston, a former employee at DynCorp, reported a completely different interpretation of the facts. According to the testimony given by Johnston in his deposition, a fellow employee, Richard Ward, told him that Ward could purchase a woman for him. Johnston stated, "He says he'll get me one for -- you can have one for 100 marks [€51/U.S.$46] a night or buy them for two or three thousand marks [€1,026 to €1,538/U.S.$925 to U.S.$1,388]. They can be yours, and they can be your 'hoes'." Johnson stated under oath that DynCorp turned a blind eye to the involvement of DynCorp personnel in these activities.
In all, Johnston named eight DynCorp staff members who allegedly admitted to him that they had purchased women and girls in 1999 and 2000. And although five employees went home after the U.S. Army CID intervened in 1999, Johnston alleged that DynCorp employees continued to purchase women. Johnston stated that although some employees faced repatriation, "There was nothing said at work about 'you couldn't do it'... so it just continues. It continued and continued."
Since these allegations were raised more than a decade ago, the Company has changed ownership and leadership; developed a strict Code of Ethics and Business Conduct, which includes a zero tolerance policy on human trafficking; created the position of Chief Compliance Officer; introduced global training programs; and has taken a number of steps to ensure a compliant, ethical, successful workplace.
It is both good and commendable that DynCorp has taken steps since those days to ensure such things never happen again. But one can't help but wonder, just how strict is its code of ethics? While this is commendable, and perhaps someday even useful, it's hardly sufficient at the present time. Their mechanisms for enforcement are largely theoretical and not resourced, and there are no people or money put behind them. Right now such codes operate on the Joe Isuzu principle, which is to trust us. I'd prefer that companies heed the words of Ronald Reagan and trust but verify.
Are employees told, for example, that engaging in such behavior is grounds for immediate termination without pay? Or that they will be handed over to local authorities if they want to prosecute and not shipped back home? How many trips out into the field where DynCorp employees work does the Chief Compliance officer make? What kind of budget does he have and how much staff does he have?
If DynCorp subcontracts a contract it works on does it do regular audits to ensure the subcontractor is complying with the anti-trafficking regulations, such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which require that contractors insert an anti- human trafficking clause into all solicitations and contracts?
To conclude, the issue is not DynCorp; trafficking in and exploitation of people, whether for labor or sexual services, is the problem. There are plenty of companies to point fingers at. I believe DynCorp when it says has taken steps to improve the situation so what happened in Bosnia does not happen again.
But to say that this old news and to dispute that "not nearly enough has changed," as a DynCorp official emailed me, is public relations puffery, not dealing with reality. At a hearing last November 2 of the Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations & Procurement Reform Subcommittee of the House Oversight Government Reform Committee it was estimated that the number of third-country national subjected to labor trafficking and abusive employment conditions ranged from tens to hundreds of thousands of people. To paraphrase Barrack Obama, that is not change we can believe in.
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