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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

Bill Gates Foundation sells shares in Israeli prison contractor G4S

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Young man at protest holds sign protesting G4S

G4S has come under international pressure over its role the Israeli occupation.

(Anne Paq / ActiveStills)

The Bill Gates Foundation appears to have responded to activist pressure over its investment in Israeli prison contractor G4S by selling some, if not all, of its shares in the company.

Stock exchange filings published yesterday show that the foundation’s stake has dropped below the 3 percent threshold above which holdings must be declared.

It is not known how many shares, if any, the Gates Foundation continues to hold, although that should become clear in the next few months when more detailed filings will be published. 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation purchased a 3.17 percent stake in G4S for £110 million ($184 million) in June 2013, a move opposed by Palestinian and international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) groups due to the role that G4S plays in helping Israel run its prison system.

G4S has a contract with the Israeli Prison Service to supply and run security and management systems at six prisons where Palestinian political prisoners, including children, are routinely tortured.

In April, protests were held at the at Gates Foundation offices in London, Johannesburg and Seattle. A petition signed by more than 14,000 people called on the the Gates Foundation to divest from G4S because of its role in Israel’s prison service.

A statement signed by more than twenty Palestinian organizations and 130 international groups argued that its holdings in G4S meant that the Gates Foundation “is legitimizing and profiting from Israel’s use of torture and mass incarceration.” 

“Pressure is starting to work”

“We are glad the pressure on the Gates Foundation to divest from G4S is starting to work. We urge the foundation to sell any remaining shares it still holds and release a public statement pledging not to invest in corporations profiting from Israel’s military occupation,” said Rafeef Ziadah, a campaigner with the British anti-poverty group War on Want and the Palestinian BDS National Committee.

G4S has already lost contracts worth millions of dollars. Trade unions, universities and other public bodies in Europe and South Africa have canceled many contracts with G4S over concerns about the firm’s role in Israel’s prison system. 

Protests will take place outside the G4S shareholders meeting next Thursday (5 June), as they have the previous two years. 

Gavan Kelly, advocacy director at Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner support and advocacy organization, said that the ongoing hunger strikes by Palestinian political prisoners underlined why the Gates Foundation’s investment appeared so outrageous.

“More than 125 Palestinian prisoners remain on hunger strike after more than 35 days to protest their detention without trial. It’s clear that G4S’s involvement in Israel’s prison system is incompatible with the Gates Foundation’s stated commitment to human rights and equality,” he said.

Harsh punishment

According to Addameer, more than 125 Palestinian prisoners went on hunger strike on 24 April to protest being held under administrative detention, a form of detention without trial where prisoners are not allowed to see the “evidence” held against them.

Visiting restrictions make it difficult to get exact figures but it is thought that the hunger strikes have since escalated and may now involve up to two hundred prisoners. The hunger strikes have now reached a critical moment as many prisoners have now gone 35 days without food.

More than forty hunger strikers were yesterday transferred to a hospital due to their deteriorating health. Israel has responded to the continuation of the hunger strikes with harsh punishments, including isolating the hunger strikers from the rest of the prison population, the denial of family visits for four months, daily searches and beatings and restrictions on access to legal counsel.

A video from Addameer details the role that G4S plays in Israel’s abhorrent prison system:

G4S: Securing War Crimes

Comments

In the U.S. the Gates Foundation has also recently come under pressure to drop its investments in G4S by the immigration rights/reform movement and Latino groups due to its role in running private prisons in America in which undocumented immigrants are detained, often in harsh conditions as well. There was also a large-scale petition campaign surrounding this.

Until we know which group the Gates Foundation was responding to, it may be premature to chalk this up as a victory for the BDS movement.

Either way though, it's good news and further proof that activists for human rights and social/political justice should work together wherever possible!

Thanks Alex, that’s really useful and great to hear. Could you please provide a few links about the Latio and migrant rights groups in the US that have been campaigning around G4S and Gates? thanks!