Shine A Light

G4S and their human rights problem

Protesters disrupt security company's annual meeting. A jury questions the death of a detainee. Spooks and Big Money mingle with ministers at Bilderberg. Scenes from a Le Carré novel? A difficult day for security giant G4S . . . War on Want's film of the protest is here.

Clare Sambrook
6 June 2013


This afternoon, security company G4S had its shareholders' meeting disrupted by human rights protests. About 25 protestors who had purchased shares in the company gained access to the meeting at Salter's Hall in London's financial district.

During chairman John Connolly's opening comments, protesters sounded a horn and unfurled a banner that proclaimed "Stop G4S!". Several were ejected from the meeting by uniformed G4S personnel, according to a witness.

"How much was G4S fined by the Home Office and the UK Border Agency over Jimmy Mubenga's death?" asked one protester. Jimmy Mubenga was the 46-year-old Angolan man who died after being restrained by G4S guards on a deportation flight in 2010.

Danish MP Nikolaj Villumsen challenged the company over its human rights policy. How did that square with the company's work in Israeli prisons where Palestinians were said to be tortured?

Outside the meeting dozens of protesters held banners.

One read: "Throw a stick. Get 15 months. Kill a migrant. No charge. British Justice? (Ha!) Where's Justice for Jimmy Mubenga?!!"

Protesters shouted: "Who killed Jimmy Mubenga? G4S did. G4S did."

Last year the Crown Prosecution Service announced that it would not pursue manslaughter charges against G4S or its employees over the death of Mubenga. Former prisons inspector Lord Ramsbotham called the decision "perverse".

One campaigner donned a white custody suit and black hood and shouted from behind a makeshift black cage. Others objected to G4S's involvement in the UK government's Workfare scheme. Some wanted to expose its bungling of a government contract to house asylum-seekers. 

There is no lack of targets. G4S, despite its spectacular Olympic security cock-up, is the British government's company of choice when it comes to privatising public services.


Around the world G4S protects soldiers, weaponry and cash. They clear landmines, tag offenders, run prisons, hospitals, children's homes and schools. They do police investigations and surveillance, put welfare claimants back to work.

They protect South African mining companies from unhappy workers: G4S supplies platinum mines with “patrol dogs. . . riot control. . .employee screening and vetting” and “under-cover operatives”.

G4S operates in 125 countries. The company is alert to human rights concerns. Today chairman John Connolly referred protesters to the company's freshly minted human rights policy.

Launched in April, they say it's taken years of work. It sounds complicated. In Phase One, according to the company's literature, the "human rights landscape" was "evaluated and mapped". In Phase Two they did analysis "to determine human rights risks and challenges". Then they made a "heatmap" of "higher risk areas".

Finally, Phase Three began: there was development and testing. They got feedback from "external sources" including Dr Hugo Slim, Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict.

Slim gave the human rights policy his thumbs-up. G4S had shown "real intent to produce a meaningful policy that will reduce the risk of any form of company involvement in human rights violations," he said.

G4S named Slim as the policy's co-author. They forgot to mention that he had co-founded a company — called Malachite —  that advises corporations like mining giant Rio Tinto and G4S on "how to benefit from the exciting opportunities available in high growth regions".

To the west of London, at Isleworth Crown Court today, an inquest jury heard evidence about the death of Jimmy Mubenga. A father of five, he died aged 46 after being restrained by three G4S guards contracted to the UK Border Agency.

The guards restrained him in his seat on a BA plane that was waiting to depart Heathrow for Angola. They used a technique known to be dangerous.

Doctors and lawyers had warned of the dangers, and published a report about them two years before Mubenga died. It's called Outsourcing Abuse. Lin Homer, the British civil servant in charge of commissioning the security company, wasn't having it. She accused the doctors and lawyers of seeking to "damage the reputation of our contractors". PDF

The inquest jury has heard how one of the G4S guards who restrained Jimmy Mubenga had 65 racist jokes on his mobile phone when it was seized by the police. Another read out to the jury some of his jokes about black men, Pakistanis and Muslims. He insisted that they "did not reflect his beliefs or influence his treatment of the deportees he removed from the UK".

Jimmy Mubenga was not the first to die in G4S's care. Gareth Myatt, 15 years old, of mixed race and less than five feet tall, died in April 2004 while being restrained by three G4S guards at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre near Rugby. G4S and government commissioners had ignored repeated warnings about staff bullies and “positional asphyxia”, said the Coroner in that case.

In Australia, the Aboriginal elder Mr Ward was cooked to death in a G4S van with faulty air conditioning being driven across the goldfields in January 2008. G4S and government commissioners had ignored warnings about shoddy vehicles over years, said the Coroner in that case.

Two years ago Daniel Ryan, who runs the company's business in the Middle East, told financial analysts about "growth drivers" in his region. The Arab Spring was good for business.

In Bahrain, activists have reported that "going out on the streets, carrying nothing but a flag and calling for democracy could cost you your life". Ryan said the troubles in Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia helped G4S "gain visibility" among government security chiefs and "built the brand".

“The geopolitical unrest and continued political upheaval will weaken law and order and increase crime," said Ryan. "We believe strong stable government provides us long term revenue.”

This week, Britain is hosting 140 bankers, billionaires and politicians at the 61st annual Bilderberg meeting. It's a secretive get-together designed to "foster dialogue between Europe and America".

Bilderberg describes itself as "a forum for informal, off-the-record discussions about megatrends and the major issues facing the world". The venue is a luxury hotel in Hertfordshire.

On the guest list there's Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Google's Eric Schmidt, and Microsoft's Craig Mundie. And former United States Treasury people Robert Rubin and Timothy Geithner.

There's cold war warrior Richard Perle. And junk bond merchant Henry Kravis. Last week his firm made General David Petraeus, the former army chief and CIA director, chairman of its newly created Global Institute. Petraeus is at Bilderberg too.

At Bilderberg oil and mining company bosses mingle with ministers of finance and foreign affairs from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Britain, Austria, Turkey, Portugal and Spain. The Dutch are sending their Prime Minister. 

Bankers from HSBC have brought along their newest recuit, the ex-MI5 chief Sir Jonathan Evans.

Peter Sutherland, chairman of Goldman Sachs, is there. And Swedish billionaire Jacob Wallenberg, a director of the Coca Cola company. Dropping by is Henry Kissinger. He advises American Express, Volvo, Chase Manhattan Bank, Coca Cola and the mining company Freeport-McMoRan.

Bilderberg's strength is that "there is no detailed agenda, no resolutions are proposed, no votes are taken, and no policy statements are issued".

Protesters are welcome. . . in a dedicated pen, guarded by G4S.

The police say that G4S guards will search everyone who enters the "protest area". They'll photograph and video people too — "if necessary for safety and security". That's G4S Securing Your World, as they like to put it. Whose world?

This article was revised at 7pm on Thursday 6 June to reflect events inside the annual meeting. Image courtesy of StopG4S. 

 About Bilderberg and G4S, Martin Rowson says it all here.


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