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G4S AGM backsliding

Stop G4S campaigners from a variety of organisations joined local activists from Sutton for Peace and Justice to protest outside the G4S AGM held at the Holiday Inn in Sutton on 26 May.  They wanted to send a clear message to the G4S executives and shareholders that G4S could not continue to profit from war, instability, occupation and exploitation.

However, in the AGM G4S verbally recommitted to doing business in Israel. This was a surprise as just a few months ago G4S announced in its Annual Report that it would sell off its Israeli branch G4S Israel and G4S youth services in the UK and US. This announcement came after several years of campaigning, and significant campaign victories this year as three UN agencies stated that they had not renewed contracts with the company.

In the past, in order to shake off protests and avoid scrutiny, G4S has made verbal and written promises not to renew certain contracts dealing with Israeli checkpoints, police stations and the Israeli prisons. The company failed to keep its own deadlines over the past years. But, G4S  stated on the morning of the AGM that the ‘contracts in question’ (including contracts for equipment and services to Israeli prisons, a West Bank police station, and checkpoints) are due to expire by the end of 2017 and will not be renewed.

However, inside the AGM (where no recording devices are allowed) G4S executives were more candid about their intentions. When asked if G4S would be ending its 25 year contract for an Israeli police academy as a part of its sale of G4S Israel. Executive director Ashley Almanza said that G4S “will only conclude the sale of G4S Israel if we receive satisfactory terms and G4S ‘will continue to operate in Israel even if we sell off G4S Israel”. When pressed on the matter of continued G4S business with the illegal Israeli settlements and Apartheid Wall, Almanza dodged the question, stating that ‘G4S, like the UK government, opposes anti-Israel boycotts.’

A few days before the AGM, G4S released a statement rejecting comments by the BDS (Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions) movement and anti-Israel pressure groups claiming that their actions have caused the G4S group to sell G4S Israel.

At the same time the UK and Israeli governments have stepped up their attack on the BDS movement. In the UK, this has mainly been through government statements and proposals designed specifically to silence BDS activities. In the USA, some states like Illinois passed laws to allow for blacklisting of companies that appear to be taking BDS action. Given that a wide range of US groups have gone public on their joining the Stop G4S campaign, the timing of such statements is no coincidence.

Inside the meeting, it became clear that G4S abuses all over the world are still a pressing issue for many. Of 20 questions allowed from the floor, all but two touched on G4S abuses. There were questions on G4S abuses in Palestine and the scandal exposed at a youth detention facility in Medway (Kent) in January 2016, where G4S staff assaulted young inmates. Another issue brought up was that of negligence in detention centres run by G4S, particularly in HMP Altcourse, where levels of self-harm and suicide are high. In addition there was the scandal of the G4S ‘red doors’ where the doors of asylum-seekers were painted red, stigmatising them and making them targets for violence. The G4S executives were furious when it was suggested from the floor that there is a common thread running through all G4S work: profiting from violence and abuse.

Perhaps G4S will follow through on its promise to sell off its business in Israel, while insisting that it is not doing so as a result of the campaign against G4S. Or maybe G4S will continue to do business in Israel in less obvious ways. Regardless, it is clear that G4S cannot be trusted, and that the campaigns against the company must continue.

(Report by Mike McLoughin with information from  War on Want)

 

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