Putting reputational capital at risk: when a security company's human rights record counts in the contest for public contracts.
Politicians in Oslo have been pushing for the exclusion of British-Danish security firm G4S from bidding for public contracts because of its involvement in Israel’s violations of international law and human rights, Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen reported on 16 January.
Meanwhile, the Umeå branch of the Swedish church will no longer hire G4S, due to its role in the occupation and Israeli prisons.
Lisa Tegby, the vicar of Umeå, told Swedish radio station Studio One that she believes the action is supported by UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk’s report to the UN General Assembly, which calls for a boycott of companies profiting financially from the settlements in the West Bank (reported in Swedish newspaper Dagen on 12 January).
Tegby responded to criticism: “I say no, and cry out loud, when Israel violates human rights in the West Bank, as well as I say no, and cry aloud, what is happening in Syria, or in parts of China or what happened in South Africa.”
However one expert in Norway disagrees: “It is factually and legally incorrect to suggest that companies cannot be excluded from government goodies on the basis of a poor human rights record,” wrote Mark Taylor on The Laws of Rule website on 16 January.
Taylor continued in his article:
“There are an increasing number of public authorities, both local and national, that are imposing human rights and other ethical requirements through procurement rules. Most already do so for issues such as corruption – both here [in Norway] and abroad – and there is no law preventing them from doing so with respect to human rights.”
“Many jurisdictions allow public authorities to impose human rights due diligence obligations on companies seeking to be awarded public contracts. This is the case, for example, in the EU.”
There is no legal obstacle to including human rights in ethical procurement rules, nor in excluding businesses who don’t meet human rights standards, according to Taylor: “The only obstacle is politicians who would rather drag their feet.”
In response to questions from Swedish media, G4S claimed it would pull out of its controversial contracts in the West Bank.
Debbie McGrath, G4S communications manager in London, told Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen on 16 January that this concerns a police station, a prison and a few checkpoints. The company have not deployed personell down there, but it provides security systems, she added.
Adam Mynott, another G4S communications manager in London, told Swedish radio Studio One that G4S will have left the West Bank by 2015, because its customers do not live up to the company’s ethical guidelines, wrote Swedish newspaper Dagen on 12 January.
However, Richard Falk investigated G4S’s intention “to exit a number of contracts involving the servicing of security equipment at the checkpoints in the wall, prisons and police stations in the West Bank.” G4S does not intend to end all operations in Israeli settlements, concluded Falk, because the company continues its contracts with private enterprises operating in the settlements.
Moreover, G4S will remain complicit with Israel’s violations of international law through its services to Israeli prisons where thousands of Palestinian political prisoners are held. Israel’s transfer of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, including children, from the occupied territory to military prisons inside Israel is a violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The vicar of Umeå is right about Richard Falk’s support. Falk calls on civil society to “vigorously pursue initiatives to boycott, divest and sanction” against companies such as G4S, Veolia and Volvo until they bring their policies and practices into line with international laws and standards.
In November 2012, Richard Falk sent a letter to the member councillors of the North London Waste Authority urging it not to award the multi-billion waste contracts to Veolia “due to its deep and ongoing complicity with Israeli violations of international law.”
In a report to the UN General Assembly, Falk addressed the legal responsibility of business enterprises and corporations in activities relating to Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank. In the G4S case study, Falk writes:
“G4S Israel (Hashmira) is the Israel subsidiary of G4S. The company provides resources and equipment for Israeli checkpoints. The company also provides security services to businesses in settlements, including security equipment and personnel to shops and supermarkets in the West Bank settlements of Modi’in Illit, Ma’ale Adumim and Har Adar and the settlement neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem. In addition, after the company purchased Aminut Moked Artzi, an Israeli private security company, it took over its entire business operations, which include security services to businesses in the Barkan industrial zone located near the settlement of Ariel.
“Falk reminds G4S that when it joined the UN Global Compact Group, CEO Nick Buckles said that it would “give us extra impetus to ensure respect for human rights, the environment and ethical behaviour are part of everything we do worldwide.”
This piece was first published in The Electronic Intifada