Campaigners have given a cautious welcome to the news, but emphasize that pressure on the company must continue until the abuses it is complicit in end. They note that G4S has made misleading statements in the past.
According to the Financial Times:
G4S has confirmed that it will end all its Israeli prison contracts within the next three years after an annual general meeting that was severely disrupted by human rights protesters. Asked by angry protesters whether G4S would withdraw from the Palestinian territories as reported by the Financial Times last year, Ashley Almanza, chief executive, confirmed “no change to that position.”
“We expect them to expire and we don’t expect to renew them,” he said. These include contracts to provide security and screening equipment at military checkpoints, the controversial Ofer prison and a police station in the West Bank, all of which are expected to expire next year.
But Mr Almanza said for the first time that the move would also include prison service contracts all over Israel.
“G4S is certainly feeling the pressure and reputational damage caused by the international campaign against its complicity in Israel’s military occupation,” said Randa Wahbe, advocacy officer with the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, in a statement emailed to The Electronic Intifada.
“The latest reports that G4S will not renew its contract with the Israeli Prison Service is a welcome step, but this has no immediate effect on those facing human rights violations inside Israel’s prisons today,” she added.
“G4S has a long track record of saying one thing but doing another and has not made any formal written statements about when it intends to end its contracts with the Israeli prison service and other aspects of Israel’s apartheid regime,” Wahbe said.
“The campaign against G4S will continue until it actually ends all contracts that support Israel’s military occupation.”
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign adds that G4S “will continue to be targeted until it ends its complicity with Israeli crimes.”
“Blood on its hands”
Despite the apparent decision to pull out, the company maintains that it has no role in Israel’s abuses.
“We do not operate prisons, we supply prisons with security equipment,” Almanza told the Financial Times, claiming that the equipment made the Israeli prisons “safer” and did not increase human rights abuses.
But as this video from Addameer explains, G4S has “blood on its hands” by providing surveillance systems and other services at facilities like Megiddo prison, where father of three Arafat Jaradat was tortured to death last year, and where Palestinian teen Ali Shamalawi, one of the “Hares Boys,” is being held.
On 5 June, dozens of campaigners disrupted the G4S annual shareholder meeting in London and 25 were forcibly ejected, as many more demonstrated outside.
The video at the top of this post, taken during the meeting, features activists loudly shouting “G4S shame on you!” They also list the company’s abuses, including its role in the abuse and detention of asylum seekers and migrants in the UK and for Australia (Three G4S guards have been charged with manslaughter following the 2010 death of Jimmy Mubenga as he was being restrained by the men during a forcible deportation from the UK.)
The news also comes after a number of well-known artists, activists and politicians publicly called on G4S to end its complicity in Israel’s abuse of child prisoners.
They include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African politician and former political prisoner Ahmed Kathrada, Alice Walker, Roger Waters, Angela Davis, Breyten Breytenbach, Saleh Bakri and a number of UK members of parliament.
In addition to protests, G4S is also finding itself under official pressure. Earlier this week, as the Financial Times reports, “the UK government’s National Contact Point watchdog launched an investigation into G4S’s activities in Israel and the West Bank. The National Contact Point, which is part of the Department for Business, said it had ‘accepted issues for further examination.’”
This follows a formal complaint by Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, which welcomed the trade body’s step as “ground-breaking and significant.”
Last week it was revealed that the Bill Gates Foundation dumped a significant holding of shares in G4S after coming under criticism for investing in the company.
The latest developments show clearly that even a company as vast as G4S – it has more than 600,000 employees worldwide – cannot continue to profit from the suffering and abuse of human beings without feeling the pressure from dedicated campaigners.