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Security giant G4S rejects ‘World’s Worst Company’ nomination

The world’s leading security company, G4S, says it doesn’t deserve to be nominated for Public Eye’s World’s Worst Company Award. Two activists examine G4S’s defence.

John Grayson
23 January 2013

The World’s Worst Company will be declared this Thursday by Public Eye, an initiative of the of the Berne Declaration and Greenpeace Switzerland. The charity War on Want nominated G4S for the uncoveted award. Lately on OurKingdom (10 January) we offered ten reasons why G4S deserves to win. That same day the company sent a 150 word letter to the London-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre opposing the nomination. Here we interrogate G4S’s rebuttal.

We are activists who have scrutinised and resisted G4S’s activities in asylum seeker housing in the UK, and the company’s role in Israel's occupation of Palestine. As we write, G4S lies third in the public voting for the World’s Worst Company, behind Shell and Goldman Sachs, and ahead of Repower (energy), Lonmin (formerly Lonrho — South African mining), Coal India and Alstom the French energy and transport conglomerate.

G4S say they don’t deserve the nomination because: “The basis on which G4S has been nominated is inaccurate and very misleading.”

We say: G4S appears to be responding only to one brief paragraph published by Public EyeIn fact War On Want, Boykot G4S, Boycot Isreal Network, Corporate Watch UK, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Palestine Solidarity Campaign (UK), submitted lengthy petitions to nominate G4S. The Institute for Business Ethics (IWE) at the University of St. Gallen examined the nominations in relation to human rights, labour rights and environmental issues against the backdrop of international accords and standard. Such international standards are represented by UN Resolutions, Declarations, Conventions, OECD Guidelines, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Following the assessment by the University of St Gallen, an international jury selected the most irresponsible corporations. The jury consisted of four independent business ethics experts and four members who represented the Berne Declaration and Greenpeace.

In a few key strokes, G4S dismisses the work of the University of St Gallen and the international jury.

G4S says: “Much of the information published as criteria for the nomination is completely false, for example it is not true that G4S staff are ‘often badly trained and paid’ or that ‘many have a criminal record’.”

We say: The workers of G4S themselves, and their unions, have over the past few years systematically exposed the fact that G4S workers are “often badly trained and paid”.

Back in 2008, UK charity Medical Justice’s Outsourcing Abuse documented 300 cases of alleged abuse in the carrying out of deportations and other “immigration and asylum services” on behalf of the UK government. G4S held the highest rate of abuse. The abuse involved excessive force, resulting in injuries to the face and injuries as a result of restraints.

In October 2010, Angolan man Jimmy Mubenga who died under ‘restraint’ by G4S guards contracted to the UK Border Agency.

In the aftermath of Mubenga’s death, G4S whistleblowers gave evidence to the UK Parliament in February 2011 alleging that poorly trained G4S staff on deportation flights “played Russian roulette” with peoples lives.

Later that year the BBC revealed that 773 complaints had been lodged in 2010 against G4S staff by detainees, including 48 claims of assault, and the UK Chief Inspector of Prisons reported G4S guards using extremely offensive racist language on deportation flights.

In 2007 War on Want and trade union researchers exposed G4S violations of international labour codes in South Africa, Malawi and Mozambique. White G4S managers in South Africa were accused of forcing black employees to use separate toilets “while white guards are given keys to the company toilet. And black G4S guards at Johannesburg airport complain that white supervisors call them 'kaffirs' and 'monkeys'”.

Corporate Watch reported in February 2012 that workers in Nepal, South Korea, and Malawi were starting or threatening strikes and hunger strikes protesting about wages and conditions offered or paid by G4S. In May 2012 the UNI Global union accused G4S in India of paying “poverty wages” and “intimidating workers who speak out for their rights”.

In 2011, G4S Armor Group private security guard Danny Fitzsimons in Iraq was imprisoned for twenty years for the murder of two of his fellow guards and the wounding of a third in Iraq. Following an investigation by BBC Scotland, a G4S spokesman admitted to the BBC that its screening of Danny Fitzsimons "was not completed in line with the company's procedures".

G4S says: G4S staff do not “man checkpoints” or “manage prison security” in Israel.

We say: The company is undoubtedly complicit in Israel's restrictions of freedom of movement of Palestinians.

In July 2012, Israel's defense ministry confirmed that G4S is one of the companies that provides inspection services and scanning equipment to all the Israeli checkpoints along the separation wall in the West Bank.

G4S Israel signed a contract with the Israeli Prison Authority to provide security systems for Israel's major prisons in 2007. Independent lawyers commissioned by the UK government in 2012 published a report, Children in Military Custody, which described Israel's transfer of thousands of Palestinian prisoners including children, from the occupied territory to military prisons inside Israel as a violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Palestinian child prisoners are regularly subjected to torture and ill-treatment in several G4S equipped “security” prisons. By providing equipment to these prisons, G4S is complicit in Israel's violations of international law.

G4S says: “Where the company does operate in complex environments such as Iraq or Afghanistan, it often does so in support of humanitarian programmes or on behalf of western governments helping to resolve conflict or to provide a long term stable regime for the people of the country”

We say: G4S subsidiary Armor Group operates in the world of Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC’s). For example, Armor Group was subcontracted by the US Air Force in Afghanistan. According to a 2010 report of the United States Armed Services Committee, G4S “relied on Afghan warlords, some of whom were Taliban supporters, to provide manpower for the company’s guard force at the airbase.” G4S has since tried to argue that it was simply following the practice of the US armed forces in Afghanistan. G4S is not just a ‘private security company’: it is also in part a private army, privatising war.

G4S says: “The nomination seriously misrepresents the hard work of thousands of dedicated G4S employees who make a positive contribution to the societies in which they live and work.”

Our response: The nomination criticises G4S and its corporate management, not its workers. With a few shots in the dark, G4S dismisses serious public concerns about the company's record of violations of human rights, labour rights and international law. The quality of its response speaks volumes.

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