A new survey of the global small arms business from Geneva's Graduate Institute, reveals that the private security industry has expanded to employ some 20 million personnel worldwide – doubling and sometimes tripling the number of police officers in some countries.  The Small Arms Survey 2011 released (July 6) by the think tank Geneva Forum said, however, that private security forces hold many fewer guns than do state security services.

Although terrorist threats, domestic insurgencies and drug wars continue to drive the need for increased security, many governments have, for economic reasons,  outsourced this work to private concerns which in turn have become very profitable. But some private security companies operating in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan have been accused of involvement in cases of torture which have given rise to demands to curtail their activities.

In response, the UN Human Rights Council has created a working group on mercenaries and called on member states to ratify the 1989 International Convention against the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries. The Convention, however, is a controversial document signed by only 32 states, mostly non-aligned and non-Western.

The Geneva Forum report noted that national regulation and accountability have not kept up with the growth of the private security industry where many companies continue to be involved in the illegal acquisition of firearms.

The survey said that the US, Switzerland, Germany and Brazil are among the top 14 exporters in the small arms and light weapons trade while the US, UK, Germany and France are among the top importers.  The trade in light weapons alone is estimated at $1.1 billion.

Outside conflict zones, Latin America was found to be the region with the highest ratio of small arms per private security worker – ten times higher than in Western Europe. The report also highlighted the negative impact small arms and light weapons have had on three already fragile societies: Madagascar, Ivory Coast and Haiti.