Duty of Care - Global travel & caring for others as you do yourself

Ed Marsh | Aug 12, 2014

It's not all umbrella drinks and lay flat seats

The shine comes off the global business development travel apple pretty quickly. Sure it seems glamorous to some (and absolutely beats being stuck in a cubicle in the office all the time from my perspective) who have romanticized notions of travel based on their occasional vacation forays.

But for someone traveling routinely, hassles abound; destinations mean a different hotel & airport (maybe a chance to see a bit from a taxi and have a local meal), and depending on time zone probably 1.5 to 2 full days of work as you work locally and then work through the night while folks are in the office for their normal workday at home.

And sometimes there are real hazards and complications well beyond overbooked 1X/day flights from many emerging markets.

Illness, accident, security & natural disaster

Illnesses range from routine (gastrointestinal) through immunizable (hepatitis, yellow fever, etc.) and preventable (malaria, but even the prevention causes other issues) to alarming (ebola which has recently been quite high profile.) 

Accidents are far and away the most common risk faced by travelers, and vehicle condition, driver habits, congestion, underdeveloped roads / infrastructure and chaotic traffic all contribute to a higher incidence of accidents in many emerging markets.  But perhaps more concerning than the injuries themselves is the prospect of an extended stay in a hospital which is foreign (literally) and where best practices and conditions may not be according to the standard to which you are accustomed.

Security is a common concern as recent incidents like Westgate Mall, the Arab Spring, Gezi Park riots in Turkey and Russia's invasion of Ukraine demonstrate.  While there are often warning indicators, at other times there are not.  And being caught inadvertently in the maelstrom of local conflict is unnerving.

And natural disasters of various types are also an omnipresent risk.  The Japanese quake and tsunami, Icelandic volcano eruptions and the Haiti quake are examples.

An obligation to employees

If you're a company that's doing business which requires travel, you should have policies in place to guide planning, mitigate risks and prepare for contingencies.  Even someone from the NY office injured in an auto accident in LA, or an industrial accident in Juarez may well require medical transport to a facility which can provide the proper care and be accessible to their loved ones.  That can be VERY expensive.

And if you're sending folks into places where the likelihood of various types of incidents (even traffic accidents) is elevated, particularly if access to care is limited, then you must plan for international medical evacuation.  And how will you even assess the best course of action (assuming cost truly isn't a consideration - but at $100K for a med flight that's a big assumption for many companies) to ensure your folks are properly treated?

Imagine if one of your technicians, or VP of Sales is stranded by an uprising - how will you coach them on the best course of action?  Safely extract them?

And what policies do you have in place to ensure that they are flying carriers with strong safety records; staying in hotels which provide adequate security; avoiding travel to places which are simply too volatile; and engaging in appropriate prophylaxis (medical and scenario planning)?

Does your company "cross load" key leaders?  The military plans around aircraft being shot down, or even having to turn back for mechanical reasons.  While you don't plan around the former in business, does your company have a similar policy for the latter?  Even if you consider the risk of a loss like Freescale's on MH370 to be too remote to merit planning, scheduling delays, missed connections, strikes and mechanical cancellations are common.  Sending a team for an important presentation internationally?  Maybe they shouldn't travel together.

The bottom line is that employees must know that you have their (and their families') well being and interests in mind when you ask them to travel - because travel is critical to business both domestically and globally.  And many of the most active and dynamic markets are also ones where travel can be most adventurous.  It's good business, and it's ethically imperative.

What's reasonable?


Obviously the answer to this starts with where your folks travel, for how long, how often and with how much notice.  And much of what's appropriate is a matter of common sense - after all not many mid size manufacturing companies have a CSO (Chief Security Officer.)

First, have simple policies and follow them.  These aren't simply pages in an employee manual.  Examples might include:

  • Restrict travel per US State Department guidelines
  • Require that all travelers visit an accredited travel clinic (which will follow CDC guidelines) and follow recommendations for immunization & prophylaxis
  • Whenever possible fly only on carriers which are approved to fly in and out of US / EU airports
  • Stipulate that all local transport is with hotel approved taxis/limos
  • Require that all travelers complete basic familiarization training for operational security (not discussing or widely disseminating travel & meeting itinerary - it's sensible protection against widespread industrial espionage as well) and situational awareness (info here & here)
  • Ensure that travelers are briefed on any noteworthy local/regional risks and are rehearsed & conversant in how to handle security situations
  • Require travelers to register with the Bureau of Consular Affairs Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
  • Subscribe to a daily / situational alert briefing service
  • And for those times when events outpace your prevention, ensure that all travelers are covered with a medical and security travel policy.  Specifics will depend on the nature of travel, but well known providers include GlobalRescueInternationalSOS andFrontierMedex

What's realistic

It's also important, though, to keep risks in perspective.  Have you stopped to think about what travelers from abroad are hearing about Chicago?  But you wouldn't hesitate to travel there - so balance what you hear in the "news" with what informed sources suggest.  Here's an interesting graphic comparing rate of gun violence between American metro areas and notable global destinations.  (article here)

What works for you?

Have you established procedures to ensure Duty of Care for your employees?  What does your company do for you?  Have you lived with cumbersome bureaucratic policies that impeded routine business?  Jump into the conversation adding your comment below.

Don't lose sight of why you're traveling!

At the end of the day this is about growing your business.  You mitigate risks and plan for contingencies because that's prudent business regardless of latitude / longitude.  So don't forget about the important business objectives and ways to really drive profitable global growth....like effective management of sales channel for instance.  Download our free whitepaper on the Six Critical Phases of Channel Management.

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