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Why Professional Negotiators Are Important After A Business Kidnapping

How should you respond to the news of an employee's kidnapping?

Most kidnappings take place in countries where governments are weak and territory is disputed. Without a police force able to help, you will need to negotiate to get your loved one or employee back. So, what is the "right" price for his or her life?

One expert analyzed the problem using the tools of economics and examined it from the perspective of all parties. The kidnappers want to extract the maximum amount of profit, yet do not want to be caught. Often, their first demand is unreasonable, but they are really trying to determine how much the victim is really worth. Depending on how the victim's representatives respond, the kidnappers will either revise the ransom upwards or downwards. If they are offered a large amount, say a million dollars, straightaway, the kidnappers will believe there is a lot more they can extract.

Therefore, the best response to a ransom demand is to never agree immediately to a kidnapper's demands, according to the expert. If the kidnappers have time, they will keep doubling the price and judge the response to this accordingly. If the kidnappers agree to the first ransom offer they are given, they are probably negotiating from the back of a car, and are desperate to return the hostage in exchange for a quick payoff.

By contrast, a swiftly agreed, overgenerous ransom puts a bulls-eye target on your wider family, your firm's other employees (if you are travelling with work), and fellow nationals. News of easy profits spread quickly in criminal communities and can cause local or regional kidnapping booms.

Getting the right price requires haggling out a compromise that both satisfies the kidnappers and is affordable for the victims' representatives. Economic reasoning tells us where this undignified bartering ends: kidnappers will release their victim when the cost of holding on to the hostage exceeds what they expect to gain from the next round of ransom negotiations.

When foreigners are abducted in a kidnap-prone area, there is often a need for a professional ransom negotiator. For kidnap insurers, it is of paramount importance that hostage markets develop norms of non-violence and ways of negotiating ransoms that facilitate swift and reliable releases - while at the same time ensuring that kidnapping is not an easy way to riches. "Inside the ransom business" www.dhakatribune.com (Feb. 20, 2019).


Commentary

Firms doing business in areas of the world where executive kidnappings are common may do well to consider purchasing kidnapping insurance and employing kidnapping negotiators as a means to manage a hostage situation.

Insurers in this area are specialized and can coach their clients in how to handle the ransom negotiation, how to react to threats, and when to stay firm. The goal of the hostage negotiators is to barter the kidnappers down to a price that just about covers the costs of staging the kidnap and conducting the negotiation.

The result is an orderly but very limited market for foreign hostages in which the crime barely pays. The kidnapping of expatriates, tourists, and foreign firms’ local staff is discouraged by the unhurried, firm approach to negotiations.
 

Hostage incidents that are resolved by professional crisis responders result in the safe return of more than 97 percent of kidnap victims. For the few cases that go awry, the main problems are pre-existing medical conditions and escape attempts.

The vast majority of insured hostage negotiations concludes in less than a week, and generally are paid with ransoms that do not break the bank, keeping other travelers and expatriates safe. By contrast, if people instead fundraise aggressively; mobilize the media; or lobby politicians to get involved, they most likely they are to put their loved one in greater peril and more people at risk.

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