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G4S: Private muscle for hire

G4S's Olympic failure hasn’t stopped the government from handing it more services, Tim Hunt reports
December 2012

G4S’s recent Olympics debacle was little more than a sub-plot in the story of a company that has always courted controversy, from minor problems such as the failure to fulfil contracts to much more serious allegations ranging from manslaughter to sexual misconduct. Despite this, G4S has continued to grow, winning public contracts in the UK and abroad.

The British/Danish-owned company is currently estimated to be worth £1 billion and operates in more than 120 countries. Its 625,000 workers make it the world’s third‑largest private sector employer. It carries out a host of security-based tasks for the military, private businesses, airports and seaports, as well as running prisons and immigration services.

It is at the forefront of the drive towards the privatisation of such services worldwide. As John Grayson, an independent researcher and campaigner with the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group wrote recently, ‘The contracting out of these services to private companies erodes the already very limited forms of accountability and furthermore fundamentally corrupts the political system by undermining any notion of a public good.’

This privatisation is achieved through a network of lobby groups and strategic appointments. In the first year of the coalition government G4S met with ministers no fewer than 17 times. It currently runs six of the country’s 14 private prisons and is bidding for more. Company employees assisting in such bids include former home secretary John Reid and a number of former senior civil servants.

The company is also heavily involved in the imprisonment and deportation of refugees and asylum seekers. It runs three detention centres, including the Pease Pottage centre, which holds children and families. In July 2010 the immigration removal centre Brook House, which was run by G4S, was described as ‘fundamentally unsafe’ by prisons inspector Dame Anne Owers. She found there had been 105 assaults, mostly against staff, and 35 incidents of self-harm by detainees over a six-month period. There had been serious problems with bullying, violence and drugs.

In 2010 the company received more than 775 complaints in relation to its detention and deportation of immigrants, including allegations of assault and racism. Twenty-five were upheld, a high number considering they were only subject to internal investigation. In 2011, the prisons inspector found conditions in a G4S-run immigration centre to be ‘objectionable, distressing [and] inhumane’.

Most worrying was the case of Jimmy Mubenga. In 2010, the Angolan detainee died after being restrained by G4S guards, three of whom were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter. G4S has since lost the deportation contract, but charges were dropped against the security guards and no one has been held officially accountable for Jimmy Mubenga’s death.

Globally the company profits from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On its website it boasts that ‘G4S has an unparalleled heritage in Iraq, providing protective security, stabilisation and post-conflict reconstruction services to government and commercial organisations since 2003.’

In Afghanistan in 2009 a number of allegations were made against G4S subsidiary ArmorGroup, which was contracted to protect the US embassy. These included abuse by supervisors, who engaged in sexual misconduct and lewd behaviour; the sacking of a manager following his attempts to fix problems; withholding information from the US Congress about employees who went to brothels in Kabul known to house trafficked women; and misleading the US government by claiming experience and assets the company did not have.

The company also operates throughout the occupied territories in Israel/Palestine. It provides equipment and maintenance services for checkpoints, roadblocks and the separation wall. The equipment provided to the police and military includes body scanners and x-ray machines. In the private sector it provides thousands of armed guards to businesses operating in a number of settlements. G4S also provides a number of Israeli prisons with equipment and personnel.

In the UK the company is bidding to take over many police functions. The Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire police authorities are all discussing using it to provide ‘backroom’ services, outsourcing 1,191 staff with a total spend of £77 million across the three forces. G4S already provides functions to several forces, including Lincolnshire police.

Police can look forward to some of the treatment metered out to other staff around the world, including union busting (USA) and poverty pay rates (Malawi and South Korea). Meanwhile, chief executive Nick Buckles received an annual salary and shares worth £2.4 million and a possible annual bonus of £1.2 million last year.

Illustration of Nick Buckles by Ben Jennings

Tim HuntTim Hunt is a Red Pepper commissioning editor.


Disarming DSEI

Andrew Smith writes about the campaign against London’s biennial arms fair and ending the worldwide arms trade

Rupert Ferguson 28 December 2012, 06.29

Like the equally well researched edition of B.B.C. Radio 4’s ‘The Report’ program, broadcast in the run up to the Games themselves, one thing that this excellent article fails to make clear is the role of the last Labour government in G4S’s acquisition of so many public sector contracts to begin with. The involvement of G4S with the effective ‘policing’ of Jobcentres, the administration and staffing of prisons and other related institutions, not to mention its role in some exceedingly unsavoury, brutal and corrupt practices in relation to its handling of various aspects of its dealings with the Immigration Service, were all allowed to develop under the previous Labour administration: a government which was to set in motion a series of measures that would have paved the way for the creation of what could well have amounted to a surveillance state in many respects; if the 2008 financial crash had not intervened.

What is perhaps more interesting still is the apparently cosy relationship between certain elements directly linked to the next Labour administration in waiting, and the apparent advocates of the very same measures that were to lead to the over policing of everything from Stop the War Demos, to the enforced participation by Jobseekers in the government’s flagship ‘New Deal’ initiative: itself every bit as blind and oppressive as the present day treatment of the sick and the disabled by Tory contractors Atos. This kind of oppressive conduct, not only from the likes of G4S itself but also their public sector ‘partner agencies’, was to leave the Labour Party every bit as tainted with the blood and tears of the oppressed as the Major and Thatcherite administrations that it had replaced.

The presence of Rachel Briggs among the Associate Editors on the board of the Labour linked on-line journal of political science ‘Renewal’, alongside Editorial Advisors the Milliband Brothers, perhaps indicates that there will be little or no change to the status quo as far as G4S are concerned following the near certain victory of a Labour government in the wake of the imminent collapse of the Coalition. Amongst Briggs’s numerous claims to fame is her involvement with ‘Hostage UK’, an organization chaired by one time Special Envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Terry Waite, whose own unfortunate involvements with Colonel Oliver North were perhaps a major contributory factor in his own unfortunate kidnapping at the hands of Islamic Jihad in January 1987.

Of further interest perhaps is the role Briggs is supposed to have played as Head of the Identity Programme between 2003 and 2008 at the political think tank Demos. Other interesting credits that can be found on her on-line c.v. include a senior research fellowship in Counter-terrorism and Security at the Royal United Services Institute. One wonders what the late George Orwell would have thought of that! For those of us who have experienced the hobnailed jackboot of the State pressing down on throats from above at first hand it really doesn’t matter on which foot that boot is being worn! All that matters is that whoever is in power in Britain today, those of us who are being deliberately kept at the bottom by the flotsam and jetsam at the top are likely to experience the same kind of oppressive conduct from those in control in the event of the election of David Milliband as we are from the likes of George Osborne and Ian Duncan Smith!

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