Management at G4S probably feels that it has scored a goal against Palestine solidarity campaigners over the past few days.
One of the world’s most influential newspapers, The Financial Times, has reported that the private security firm has been “cleared” of abetting Israel’s human rights abuses. That message is very different from the adverse coverage that G4S received the previous week, when its annual general meeting was disrupted by activists protesting at its role in equipping jails where Palestinians are frequently tortured and held without charge or trial.
A deeper examination of these issues suggests that G4S would be foolish to take anything more than fleeting comfort from The Financial Times article.
The body which reportedly “cleared” the firm is known as the National Contact Point. That body is part of the business department in the UK’s government.
Sajid Javid, the new British business secretary, spoke on Monday night at a dinner celebrating trade links between the UK and Israel. He cited data indicating that the value of UK-Israel trade is about £4.5 billion ($7 billion) per year. As well as expressing satisfaction that such trade is growing, he emphasized that he had “no time for the boycott campaign” against Israel.
Despite the impression created by The Financial Times’ headline, the National Contact Point did not completely exonerate G4S. Rather, it accepted some of the main arguments in a complaint by the organization Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, which had prompted the National Contact Point’s investigation.
For example, the National Contact Point accepted that human rights abuses are occurring in Israeli prisons to which G4S is providing technology and services. It also agreed that military checkpoints which use scanning equipment and metal detectors maintained by G4S restrict Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the occupied West Bank.
The National Contact Point concluded that G4S has not “adequately met” all the requirements of guidelines on corporate behavior set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a club of industrialized countries that includes both the UK and Israel. However, it decided there was no “broad failure” by G4S to respect human rights.
That finding can only be described as bizarre. Locking up Palestinians without charge — a practice known as administrative detention — amounts to a systematic denial of elementary rights. Any firm that enables such abuses to occur — and, in the case of G4S, seeks to profit from those abuses — is failing to respect human rights in a very broad manner.
It should not be forgotten that the OECD guidelines which the British National Contact Point is tasked with overseeing are voluntary in nature. Expecting firms to behave in a benevolent fashion is simply naive. Claims by corporations to be motivated by “social responsibility” cannot obscure how their real agenda is profit maximization.
The lessons to be learned here are clear. Palestine solidarity campaigners cannot rely on Western government bodies to hold corporations to account. We have to do so ourselves through people power.
That’s where the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) comes in. Last week’s annual meeting of G4S showed how effective that call can be. A major firm has been severely embarrassed over its role in shoring up Israel’s apartheid system.
G4S has been pressured into promising that it will cease giving that support.
Our challenge as activists is to make sure that it delivers on those promises. We cannot be contented with the wishy-washy statements from its representatives that it will cease terminate its contracts with the Israeli military and prison authorities towards the end of 2017.
We have to keep boycotting G4S until it is has no option than to stop aiding Israeli apartheid.