TCNs and the Challenges of Human Resources in Stability Operations
A recent article in The New Yorker raised the ugly issue of labor trafficking in contingency operations. The article mentions food riots, illegal payments to recruiters of Third Country Nationals (TCNs), and deceptive practices used to trick employees into operating in war zones. Although this is far from a new problem, it has never been comprehensively addressed and violations undermine the legitimacy and accomplishments of the mission itself. Too often the issue is ignored by governments in the face of more pressing conflict-related problems, or simply due to the pressure to obtain the very lowest price from their contractors.
TCNs come from all over the world and they add enormous capability and value to contingency operations. No international stability policy could succeed without the cost-effective labor, expertise and off-the-shelf experience TCNs bring to the field. In fact, employing local hires is by far the best value and offers vast economic and capacitybuilding benefits. Sometimes, however, necessary skill sets are unavailable or vetting locals is an issue, and the problem of insurgent infiltration means that clients prefer that employees hail from neutral places. i.e. third countries.
Problems arise when rules are ignored, or brokers seek money not only from the company looking for vetted employees, which is legal, but also demand money from the desperate TCNs willing to pay exorbitant amounts to get the relatively high-paying jobs, which is illegal. Other problems include misinforming potential employees about the risks, the potential salaries, or confiscating their passports so they cannot travel. Contingency contractors hiring TCNs or using subcontractors that hire TCNs need to be vigilant to ensure that their employees are not victimized. To successfully address the problem, however, it will take the larger clients, especially governments, paying attention and questioning their contractors.
In fact, ensuring that labor-trafficking laws and regulations are followed provides very real qualitative benefits. As one company executive put it, ?do you want to hire the best truck driver in Pakistan, or the best truck driver who can pay the $3,000 the broker demands of him?' These kinds of kickbacks and unnecessary barriers to free labor artificially restrict the pool of potential labor, undermine the quality of personnel and hamper the ability of employees to focus on the duties they have been hired to undertake.
Finally, TCNs work in stability operations because they want to be there. The very fact that they have been willing to pay illegal bribes to shady brokers demonstrates how valuable the employment is too many in the world. …