As protest becomes more common, often businesses not ‘directly targeted’ are in danger of being affected by actions (or protest) aimed at their neighbours.
How prepared are you?
You could be forgiven, after the recent mass protests across cities in the UK and other parts of the world, that protest is a new and growing trend; however, the activity of protest and activism has been around for as long as the history of humanity. A study of the causes of protest and activism unearths a plethora of reasons and root causes. Many, which start off as minor grievances, can quickly escalate into full blown protests if not handled appropriately. Some of the current protests have become trans-national. Whilst the reason or underlying root cause of a protest can offer insights into the type or the likelihood of any unlawful behaviour one may expect to face, this article focuses on the general considerations in preparing for and responding to protest.
As the memory of the 80’s miners’ strikes and protests is fading, it is only in the most recent years that it has again become a ‘typical’ threat in an organisation’s risk register. Mass international protests from umbrella climate protest groups have placed the phenomena of protest firmly in the daily lineup of current news items in the UK media. Whilst the freedom of speech and the right to protest is and should be the right of every UK citizen, and is enshrined in various laws and conventions, an organisation still has a duty of care to its staff. It does this by ensuring that it has considered the risks associated with protest in any risk assessment / business planning process. Failure to do so could, at best, result in reputation damage to the organisation, at worst result in injury to a protester or staff member, not to mention the financial and legal ramifications.
Generally, most protests are lawful. Many examples abound of the positive effect they have had on the development of our society and nation. Sadly, there are also numerous examples where people have become seriously injured, or even killed, and widespread damage has been caused. Again, the reasons for this are many and varied, some are protester / third party caused, some caused by the person or organisation responding. If you are involved in developing measures to protect your organisation or enhance its business resilience you should consider the following points:
- Analyse your business activities: Are you working in a contentious or potentially contentious business sector? Could the way you go about your business activities attract protest? Whilst this may seem like a simple exercise you should delve into the detail of your business, look at your supply chain, both suppliers and the organisations you supply. Could you be at risk of becoming a target of protest solely because of who you supply goods or services to?
- Record and analyse your findings in your risk register / risk assessments: Whilst I would argue that virtually every organisation could become the subject of protest, there will be organisations / market sectors who are more ‘at risk’. Record your findings and map out who / which locations / which business activities are at risk.
- Develop an organisational response: It is no good preparing only one element of your staff such as security – inevitably other members of staff may become involved in protest or be confronted by Develop policies and procedures on what to do in the event of protest and cascade them across the organisation. Provide the relevant amount of training to different groups of staff. Those who are in ‘front of house’ or customer facing roles will more than likely require more / different training than those who work in your finance department, for example.
- Be aware of your neighbours: So, you are in the lucky position that your organisation does not do anything contentious and that your staff are model citizens! What about the other businesses around you though? What are their business activities? Do they do anything that could result in protest and if so, would it impact your organisation? There are numerous examples of organisations who suffered massive financial loss not because of protest directed at them but because of protest directed at their neighbours.
- Liaise with the Police: The police are the primary law enforcement agency in the UK and as such are required to respond to protest. If you have identified that you could be the subject of protest, then speak to your local police force and obtain advice. Gain an understanding of how they would likely respond to a protest situation at your business.
- Plan your communications: Communications is a highly important aspect in dealing with protest. When developing your Communications Plan consider how you would respond to protest and ensure that all communication efforts are aligned throughout the organisation.
- Understand your rights and that of protest: Whilst everybody has the right to protest this does come with certain responsibilities and limitations. You should consider the rights of protest and individual rights in any training package and ensure that your staff are familiar with the laws around protest.
- CCTV / Body Worn Video: It is most likely that any form of protest will be accompanied by protesters who will film the protest and any interactions that they have with your organisation. Consider evidence gathering equipment such as CCTV systems. If you do have a CCTV system in place, ensure that it is considered in any planning and that it is used to cover the actions of protest and Those that may have to interact with protesters should consider wearing a body worn video system to capture any interaction.
- Responding to protest: Are your staff properly trained and aware of the legislation and their powers? An inappropriate or excessive response to protest can have a devastating effect on an organisation’s reputation, not to mention the potential harm caused to a lawful Ensure that anybody that may have to respond to protest is appropriately trained, respectful and are able to communicate effectively. Those who respond to protest must respond appropriately, lawfully, and should realise that they will be held accountable for their actions.
- Document your actions: From a legal compliance perspective you should be documenting your decisions during any type of security / HSE incident. Every decision taken, every
interaction with a protester should be documented and evidenced, preferably with video and backed up with a detailed written report.
Finally, protest should not be perceived as negative. As we’ve highlighted, protest can often preclude positive change. Whilst the above is not an exhaustive list, it does provide an organisation with a sound planning process for dealing with protest appropriately.