In the first of a new series of corporate profiles, we take a look at security giant G4S, who are gaining an increasing amount of contracts to run our public services. The mass privatisation eagerly enforced by our government is sold to us as a way to provide a better, cheaper or more efficient service. What our politicians fail to tell us is that private companies exist for the sole reason of profit – there is no obligation to provide a social good or betterment, and the cost of this transference of aim and power always falls on us.
In part one of the article we look at G4S’ background and the services they now run in the UK.
Who are G4S?
G4S is a multinational security company, operating in over 120 companies, and the third largest employer in the world. In their words, they are ‘the leading global integrated security company specialising in the provision of security products, services and solutions.’
What do they actually do?
They deliver a huge range of ‘security’ services, the bulk of which involves protecting the property of other private companies, individuals and government. They protect energy resources including oil, gas, nuclear energy and chemical supplies and are paid to transport cash and valuables, oversee the movement of ‘goods and people’ and work with financial institutions and the mining industry.
They also deliver a number of public services contracts.
Areas of work include:
- prison services
- electronic tagging and monitoring
- surveillance, screening and vetting
- housing and detention facilities for asylum seekers
- detention facilities for young offenders
- children’s homes
- transporting prisoners and asylum seekers
- private security for international military operations
- delivering the ‘welfare to work’ programme in the UK
- immigration services – in their words: ‘Securing international borders and efficiently managing the flow of legitimate visitors’
- Facilities and services for the NHS and health and social care providers
There is also an overwhelming amount of information available on the reasons why G4S’ position of power is problematic. As well as numerous instances where G4S has taken advantage or abused it’s role for further gain. Here is a selection:
UK PUBLIC SERVICE CONTRACTS
Private sector prisons:
G4S prides itself as “the first private company to open and run a prison in the UK”. When Birmingham prison was transferred from public to private sector management (the first to do so) the Prison Offer’s Association Union planned industrial action. In response the then justice secretary threatened to use the military to keep order, demonstrating the strength of government support for the privatisation of prison services. G4S’s management of Birmingham prison was eventually criticised as ‘incompetent’.
UK Work Programme:
G4S is delivering three contracts for the Work Programme, which has been heavily criticised for its arbitrary and cruel treatment of benefits claimants through its ruthless sanctions regime, and its contribution to food poverty. In the first 6 months of the Work Programme, G4S referred nearly 8,000 claimants to the government for benefit sanctions. With only 40% of its sanction requests approved by the government G4S demonstrates a notable ruthlessness in applying these penalties. G4S has also previously supplied benefit fraud officers to housing and benefits departments to investigate and report benefit fraud.
‘Help to Work’ scheme:
G4S have just announced that they are also to deliver the UK government’s new ‘Help To Work’ scheme which replaces the previous ‘Mandatory Work Activity,’ and will involve mandatory and unpaid full-time work placements which must be undertaken in order to receive benefits. If a claimant breaches the rules of their placement they will lose a portion of their benefits (four weeks of JSA for the first breach). The scheme is already being strongly criticised as ‘punishment for the undeserving poor’.
G4S provides ‘in-country escorting’ and operates four immigration removal centres in the UK, viewing these contracts as part of its ‘Protecting National Interests’ area of work. One of these centres, Cedars, where G4S work alongside the children’s charity Barnardos, continues to detain children – a practice the government promised to end in 2011. G4S also undertook deportations of foreign nationals in the past but lost these contracts in 2011, the year after Jimmy Mubenga died whilst being restrained by G4S staff as they attempted to deport him.
Asylum seekers’ accommodation:
G4S provided overcrowded and substandard accommodation to asylum seekers in its care which led to serious criticism of the government’s outsourcing project from the Public Accounts Committee of MPs. G4S are now facing a £4m penalty for the failures. Women asylum seekers who have complained about the conditions they and their children are forced to live in have been subjected to harassment from G4S’s subcontracters’ staff. Asylum seekers have also been threatened with penalties from G4S in response to G4S’s own failings.
In 2010 there were over 770 complaints against G4S from immigration detainees, including 48 complaints of assault and a 2008 medical justice report detailed numerous cases of mistreatment and abuse at the hands of G4S and other companies doing the government’s outsourced immigration detention and removal work.
Despite G4S’s record of failures and abuse in the asylum and immigration system, they have, in 2014, been awarded an NHS contract to deliver medical facilities at four detention centres.
“The history of G4S and its predecessor companies represent a case study in a key element of modern neoliberal states – the privatisation and hollowing out of those same states. The contracting out of these services to private companies erodes the already very limited forms of accountability and furthermore fundamentally corrupts the political system by undermining any notion of a public good.”
“G4S certainly demonstrates the commodification of key state functions into growth areas for corporations. As one American commentator described it ‘every prisoner a profit centre, every immigrant a business opportunity’. As opportunities for profits in global manufacturing, services, and now financial institutions, decline, the security and welfare functions of states are being targeted.”
John Grayson, South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group
INCOMPETENCE, MISMANAGEMENT & FRAUD
Overcharging UK Government:
Overcharging UK Government: G4S agreed to repay the UK government £108.9m after overcharging for contracts for tagging offenders – at times using the names of people who were dead or in prison. G4S was stripped of these contracts, barred from bidding for government contracts for 6 months and is now being investigated by the serious fraud office.
London 2012 Olympics chaos: G4S’s failure to meet the security demands of the London Olympics resulted in the military being drafted in.
by Tekla Szerszynska
In part two of the article on Thursday, we take a look at G4S’ international record of human rights abuses and violations.