To effectively manage risk and protect traveling employees, corporations must ensure close cooperation between their travel management and security departments. They also must establish an effective communications strategy, closely monitor travelers' whereabouts and follow an approvals process for trips to high-risk locations. Leaders of PricewaterhouseCoopers' travel and security departments, speaking here last month during an Association of Corporate Travel Executives conference, conveyed these critical risk management components and explained how their company looks after the well-being of 150,000 people working in and traveling between 147 countries.
A first step should occur before employees are informed about travel policies and before their travel to high-risk areas is submitted for approval. Companies should "carefully select co-workers," according to Don Hubbard, managing director of PwC global security. "There have been a number of lawsuits that have been filed: business people on a trip together and some guy will sexually assault a female co-worker. Invariably, she is going to sue alleging negligent hiring. You have to do that investigation on your people as part of the duty of care of business travel."
Once employees are part of the workforce, they should be educated on all policies and procedures governing business travel. PwC's partnership structure--in which each country is independently responsible for its own P&L--complicates efforts to establish a global policy, but the company finds ways to achieve travel's and security's common goals.
For example, it holds monthly conference calls with members of its global travel steering committee, during which security personnel provide briefings and answer questions. PwC also uses an approvals process based on risk level. For travel to high-risk places, for example, "line of service" leaders in the relevant country must first sign off. For travel to areas of "extreme" risk, travelers must get a green light from both the local senior partner and a representative from the company's global security department.
The company also urges travelers to use a preferred travel agency. "If you don't have that, then you are not going to know where your travelers are," said PwC global travel leader Jim Lennon. Moreover, designated travel agencies should cooperate closely with any third parties charged with providing employee tracking mechanisms. "We feel it is a necessary part of the whole thing because we use different agencies all around the world," Lennon explained. "Somebody has to collect all that information."
In PwC's case, that somebody is International SOS, a Philadelphia-based firm that offers not only traveler tracking tools, but also medical assistance and emergency evacuation services.
Lennon also advised delegates to ensure their companies maintain updated contact information (including employees' email addresses, cell phone numbers and executive assistant contacts), possibly by relying on in-country human resources personnel, and make such information readily accessible to the appropriate people. "At first, we allowed access only to the particular travel manager in that country but decided afterwards that it was not a good idea" given operations that span many time zones, he said. "You need information available around the world so it is available at the right time."
And travelers also need complete information--before departing on their trips. Like many companies, PwC (through International SOS) sends tailored travel advisories when necessary, and posts safety and security information to its Web site.
When incidents occur, PwC's crisis management teams--a U.S. one and a global one--make use of Send Word Now, a provider of on-demand communications services. Those services helped the company coordinate a response and contact the 700 employees who were in London during the July 2005 bombings.
To prepare for terrorism, severe weather, pandemics and other disruptive events, PwC runs crisis drills, including evacuations and kidnappings. Noting a recent avian flu drill conducted in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, Hubbard said, "I pray that we do not have a pandemic, but if we do, we are probably as prepared as we can be."
Such preparation pays off. "We had a much better response plan when Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. [coast on the Gulf of Mexico] than did the U.S. government," said Hubbard, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent. "I know that's not saying a lot, but our people were evacuated from New Orleans 48 hours before the hurricane hit, and sent to Houston where they were given cars and cell phones."
Given the dangers that pop up around the world, travel management and security teams must stay on guard and expect the unexpected. "You would be shocked at the number of times our audit teams around the world are threatened with physical harm simply for reporting the correct financial information," Hubbard explained. "In one case, auditors were momentarily taken hostage in a foreign jurisdiction by factory workers who had not been paid by our client. You can't make this stuff up."
To ensure it is up to speed, PwC hired a law firm to study varying duty-of-care requirements around the world. The study found that legislation and its implications--though similar in many ways--vary between such countries as France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Given its litigious nature, the United States in particular "is a wee bit tricky," Hubbard said. For example, among other responsibilities, employers must provide basic workers compensation coverage and "voluntary supplemental" U.S. workers compensation coverage for those based outside the country; and use an "assumption of risk (waiver) clause in travel/expatriate documentation" and a tracking system "for those working abroad for extended periods."
Hubbard said "the most important principle" is a "moral" obligation to employees: "We can go into the legalities all day long, but it goes much deeper than that. I do not want to lose anyone on a business trip on my watch if that could have been prevented."
In addition to internal coordination and preparation, Lennon and Hubbard suggested companies develop contingency plans with travel suppliers. A new development that may benefit corporations could be a new data feed from charge card providers. Explaining that card companies--unlike global distribution systems--can determine if and when a traveler checks into a hotel (assuming the traveler uses his or her corporate card to do so), PwC's card representative asked Lennon if such information would be valuable. "Of course it would," he told ACTE delegates. "It is on their calendar for 2009 and I am going to try to get it moved up because it is pretty important."