More than 70 people demonstrated outside the G4S Annual General Meeting in London yesterday to protest against the security company’s human rights record in various business sectors, from Israeli prisons to “asylum markets” in the UK. Protesters told Hilary Aked why they were there.
“Who killed Jimmy Mubenga? G4S did, G4S did!” shouted a crowd of 70 in Paternoster Square outside the London Stock Exchange yesterday afternoon.
Shareholders in the security giant shuffled through glass doors into the company’s Annual General Meeting to hear from chief executive Nick Buckles about the company's performance and expansion plans. Some seemed interested in the ‘alternative annual report’ activists handed them. One or two others ripped up leaflets handed to them by campaigners.
The demonstrators had many different reasons for wanting to stop G4S. It is dominates UK ‘asylum markets’ and is contracted to lock up asylum seekers in several centres in the UK including Tinsley House and Brook House at Gatwick airport and the Cedars in Crawley, Sussex – the latter known for the Barnado’s children’s charity’s involvement with the continued detention of children (see OurKingdom's coverage of this scandal).
G4S lost its Border Agency escorting contract last year – after 773 complaints of abuse – and campaigners are still seeking justice following the death of Angolan asylum seeker Jimmy Mubenga.
He died while being restrained by G4S guards on a BA plane at Heathrow Airport in October 2010. His family are still waiting to see if the Crown Prosecution Service will bring charges against the guards or corporate manslaughter charges against G4S.
Lisa Matthews, Campaigns Co-ordinator for the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, said: “We’re here because of G4S’s role in detention and deportation. Not only are they infamous for using brutal force to deport asylum seekers from the UK, now they’re also going to be the landlords of vulnerable asylum seekers across the UK.”
Last month, under multi-million government contracts, G4S started managing accommodation for asylum seekers in the UK, provoking deep concern among asylum-seekers who know the company's reputation.
Other people protesting cited concerns about G4S’s role in the coalition government’s Workfare programme.
Keith Forbes, 59, a member of the Right to Work Campaign, said: “I’m here for all the reasons everyone else is but also especially because G4S is very involved in forcing unemployed people to work. Not to mention that they are part of the big sell off of public services, particularly the police force.”
In December 2011, Lincolnshire Police Authority became the first force in the UK to outsource core policing functions to the private sector, awarding a 10-year contract to G4S, worth £200 million. Two-thirds of the force’s staff will become G4S employees.
Protesters told police holding them back from the London Stock Exchange doors that they would be “working for G4S soon”. G4S’s policing portfolio already includes 30 ‘custody suites’ and over 500 cells, which it rents to police forces around the country.
A large contingent of demonstrators were waving Palestinian flags to draw attention to the fact that G4S provides equipment to Israeli prisons in which Palestinian political prisoners, including child prisoners, are illegally held. More than 1,600 Palestinian political prisoners recently held a mass hunger strike against Israel’s system of administrative detention through which it imprisons people without charge for 6 months and often renews these terms indefinitely.
Many arrived directly from Palestine Place, a newly reclaimed space in central London hosting two weeks of workshops and discussions in support of Palestine.
Diana Neslen, 72, a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, said: “We are here because we want justice for the Palestinians. We are very active and very concerned about Palestinian prisoners, some of whom are still on hunger strike. Many companies are profiting from various parts of Israel’s illegal occupation. G4S is one of those companies, and Israel holds prisoners in violation of the Geneva Convention. We want to bring this to the public’s attention. The government should not be giving this company major public contracts.”
Meanwhile, G4S holds a £300 million government contract to provide security for the Olympic Games. So even though press were banned from the AGM today, it will not be out of the spotlight any time soon.