If you do business in an international environment then chances are you deal with a wide range of people with different ideas about acceptable business practices, business ethics, conflict resolution and competition. While some of these people may hold views very similar to yours many others may have a different perspective. Generally speaking the further you go off the beaten path the more pronounced these differences may be.
Whether you are aware of it or not you may run afoul of one of these people. Either by posing competition to their business, refusing to pay bribes or engage in corruption, by choosing or failing to choose a certain vendor or business partner. In many places members of the police, military and security forces also have private sector business interest and can present a formidable threat if you find yourself in a business dispute with them.
Consider the story of Peter Shaw, a Welsh banker working for the European Commission in Tbilisi, Georgia. Shaw was in Georgia providing consulting to the Georgian banking sector. In June 2002, just days before he was supposed to complete his assignment and leave Georgia, Shaw was kidnapped off a Tbilisi street by heavily armed attackers in paramilitary uniforms. He was then held captive for five months, four of them in a subterranean cell in the Pankisi Gorge under deplorable conditions, the details of which he recounts in his book Hole: Kidnapped in Georgia. While it was never conclusively proven that his kidnapping was related to his work in banking there were strong indications that it was. It’s possible that Shaw’s work to improve the Georgian banking sector put him at odds with powerful people who were using the financial system for their own enrichment.
While Shaw’s case is an extreme example, it’s important to be aware of potential pitfalls that may exist in the country or countries where you are conducting business. How do you counteract this risk? It’s difficult but due diligence on potential partners and associates and a thorough assessment of the business sector in that country is one initial step you can take. Knowing who the key players are and what businesses they are in is a good beginning. Another is a simple awareness of the threat and practicing good personal security measures and operational security.