UK companies are failing to adequately safeguard their employees from the risk of kidnap abroad because they operate in a “policy vacuum”, according to a report by the Foreign Policy Centre.

The report, The Kidnapping Business, argues there is widespread confusion over who is responsible for the security of people working abroad.

While companies take the welfare of their employees seriously, private security companies on which they rely are unregulated; there are no minimum legal standards for health and safety protection abroad and managers on the ground in hotspot countries are often inadequately trained in security issues.

Businesses can still be unaware of the dangers because they associate kidnapping with political extremists interested only in high-profile public figures.

But most kidnappings are now motivated purely by economics.

And more companies are sending employees into dangerous regions – inward investment in Latin America is growing by 20% per year.

A spokesman said: “Political groups financed by the Russians in the Cold War now need to find new sources of income. Marxist-Leninist Guerrillas such as The Shining Path in Peru have diversified into kidnapping.”

The Foreign Policy Centre is urging the government to establish UK International Health and Safety Guidelines to establish an employer's duty of care for UK employees when operating overseas.

Kipnapping – the facts:

  • In 1991, three kidnappings involving Britons were reported to the Foreign Office. 42 cases involving Britons were reported in 1999
  • Kidnapping hotspots in 1999 included Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, The Philippines, Venezuela, Ecuador, Former Soviet Union, India and South Africa
  • Kidnappers take home up to $300m (£211m) each year in ransom payments.

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