University board member Oddny Miljeteig explained the decision to the Klassekampen newspaper by saying, “It is clear that large parts of the intellectual and academic communities in Bergen would have been outraged if the university hired G4S.”
The move follows the decision by the University of Oslo last year to end its contract with G4S following a student campaign over its role in shoring up Israeli apartheid.
G4S is contracted to provide services and equipment to prisons inside Israel, where Palestinian political prisoners are held without trial and subjected to torture. The company also provides services and equipment to illegal Israeli settlements, checkpoints, Israel’s wall in the West Bank and the Israeli military.
Palestinian organizations have called for campaigns against G4S to hold it account for its role in Israel’s prison system. There are now active G4S campaigns in more than ten countries and trade unions, not-for-profit groups, banks and public bodies across Europe have cut their ties to G4S.
Damage to reputation
G4S was initially the cheapest bidder to respond to the university’s ad for a security contractor. Apparently keen not to award the contract to G4S but also aware that Norwegian procurement law makes it difficult for a public authority not to select the cheapest bidder, the university ruled that hiring G4S would cause damage to the university’s reputation worth 2.5 million Norwegian krone ($420,000). G4S had offered a price that was around 2 million Norwegian krone ($340,000) cheaper than any of its competitors.
Principal Dag Rune Olsen said that the likelihood of damage to his university’s reputation was “specifically related to the media coverage on G4S activities in the West Bank.”
The campaign against G4S in Norway is backed by 21 organizations, including many major trade unions, political parties and faith groups and has been widely reported on by mainstream media outlets in recent months. Last month, the campaign held a national week of action involving meetings, demonstrations and the handing in of a petition to the G4S Norway headquarters. It is testament to the strength and reach of the campaign that a major university has decided that hiring G4S would cause it such costly damage to reputation.
By ruling that hiring G4S would cause such damage, the University of Bergen has set an example that other public bodies in Norway and across Europe can follow to exclude companies that participate in Israeli violations of international law from public contracts. In EU countries, procurement legislation also allows public bodies exclude companies from tendering processes if they can be reasonably judged to be guilty of “grave misconduct.”