G4S ditches Israel businesses

G4S equips prisons where Palestinians are tortured. (Palestine Solidarity Campaign/Flickr)

Following years of boycott pressure, the private security firm G4S announced Friday that it is ending most of its business with Israel.

“Our globally coordinated campaign has had a real impact,” said Rafeef Ziadah of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) in a statement.

“We will continue campaigning until G4S ends all involvement in violations of Palestinian human rights,” Ziadah added.

G4S, the world’s largest security firm, provides services at Israeli military checkpoints along Israel’s wall annexing Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and inside settlements built in violation of international law. It also helps run prisons where Palestinians are tortured, abused and detained without charge.

G4S will sell most of its businesses there to the Israeli private equity company FIMI Opportunity Funds for £88 million ($111 million), but will “retain a presence in Israel through Policity, the flagship national police training centre it owns in partnership with FIMI and infrastructure group Shikun & Binui,” according to the Evening Standard.

In March, G4S announced its plans to “exit a number of businesses” including G4S Israel, US “youth justice services” and UK “children’s services.”

Trade unions in the UK then immediately pushed G4S for more information about the sale, while demanding the company immediately stop working with Israeli bodies that are involved in human rights abuses, such as the Israeli army and the Israel Prison Service.

The Financial Times said at the time that by ending these businesses, the company would be “extracting itself from reputationally damaging work.”

G4S’s announcement comes after two French multinational companies, Veolia and Orange, pulled out of Israel since September 2015.

Irish company CRH left Israel’s cement industry in January.

“A domino effect is at play here,” added the BNC’s Ziadah. “Some investment fund managers are recognizing that their fiduciary responsibility obliges them to divest from international and Israeli corporations and banks that are complicit in Israel’s persistent violations of international law.”

G4S claimed its decision to sell most of its business with Israel was for “commercial reasons,” denying it was due to boycott pressure, according to the right-wing Times of Israel on Friday.

Global campaign

Since 2010, G4S has lost contracts worth millions of dollars as a direct result of boycott campaigns.

Palestinian prisoners urged activists to intensify the campaign against G4S in 2012.

Just in the last year, three Jordanian branches of UN agencies – UNICEF, the Refugee Agency and the Project Services agency – ended their G4S contracts, along with the UK’s Labour Party and a Colombia-based international restaurant chain.

The city of Berkeley, California recently passed a resolution to divest from private prison corporations, including G4S.

The United Methodist Church and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have also pulled their investments in the company.

Student governments around the US have passed countless resolutions to pressure their universities to divest from G4S.

“The BNC is determined to continue its campaign against G4S, in partnership with other justice struggles across the world,” stated Riya Hassan, a BNC coordinator in Europe.

“As in the struggle against apartheid South Africa, BDS pressure against Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid is making some of the world’s most powerful multinationals realize that profiting from Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights is not just unethical and socially-irresponsible. It is downright bad for business as well.”

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Good that they are supposed to withdraw from prison contract work for apartheid israel HOWEVER, they are widely used in the US --currently providing 'security' for Wells Fargo Banks, which has treated activists opposing the Dakota pipeline abusively in the US for example. They exchange one miserable contract for others, this against Americans @ Standing Rock...Oppose G4S in your state and across the US.

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It is heartening to hear that BDS has caused G4S to partially withdraw from the Israeli security apparatus, but we must not forget the most important thing. Not one fewer Palestinian will be imprisoned, tortured, or harassed at a checkpoint; not one fewer child will be arrested. The nature of the murderous occupation will not change because of this embarrassment.
The BDS movement has succeeded in bringing the debate about Israeli apartheid to many campuses, union halls, and other arenas around the world, and may have qualitatively altered the popular view of Israel. However, this alone will not topple the Israeli state, secure in its receipt of billions of dollars in aid from the US, its position as the fourth largest arms dealer in the world, and chief ally in the Middle East of the resource-hungry West.
The analogy to the boycott of South Africa is also deeply flawed, ignoring the long history of armed, militant struggle in that country. Even more important, the ultimate agreement of the ANC to settle for an end to civil rights abuses and set aside economic demands made it possible for the white capitalist rulers to make concessions while not losing economic control. The black population continues to live largely in poverty and the government continues to murder strikers. If the ANC had demanded economic power and a redistribution of resources, there would have been no peaceful settlement.
The role of G4S has not changed-they will continue to be a vehicle for states and corporations to control forces that threaten them. What I ask is that we continue to use BDS as a potent educational tool, which allows us to expose the nature of the Israeli state. But it would require a militant movement within Palestine, involving Israeli and international allies to bring about change in Israel or G4S. And even then, we must look beyond a strategy of national liberation to one of building a non-capitalist, egalitarian, anti-racist system everywhere.

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G4S is a truly rotten outfit. If they can be influenced by pressure in this way, there's real cause for hope. They resisted until their profits were threatened. And that's what BDS and related boycotts do. They threaten profits, the only real value determining business decisions. This is good news for campaigners, and will lead to better days at some point for Palestinians. Companies can't afford to be associated with apartheid. They'd like to be. But it's too costly in the long run.

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).