G4S has an international history of human rights violations, especially concerning labor-related abuses, violations of immigrant rights during the deportation process, and its role in the private prison industry.
The failure of G4S to provide adequate staff for the recent 2012 Olympics in London is a recent example of the company’s poor standards and mismanagement. In this article, a former police sergeant comes forward--as one of many--about shady hiring practices for the 2012 London Olympics because he believed they were looking for cheap labor. Even with cheap labor, G4S failed to live up to their contract to provide enough security forces for the Olympics. This announcement came late, forcing the military to be called in and prompting a corporate apology from G4S. A government committee puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of G4S for failing to understand the scope and complexity of securing the Olympic Games.
G4S has a worldwide reputation for poor labor practices. A complaint lodged against G4S by the Union Network International addressed G4S labor rights violations in Malawi, Mozambique, Greece, the U.S., Israel, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nepal. It also noted several additional countries where workers had gone on strike to protest poor pay or conditions: South Africa, Cameroon, Kenya, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Panama, Australia, and more.
G4S has an especially long and dirty history in the African continent. G4S is the single largest multinational corporation operating in Africa, with more than 82,000 employees. A 2007 report entitled "Who Protects the Guards? The Facts Behind G4S in Southern Africa" by UNI Property Services and the Alliance for Justice at G4S, showed that the company was taking part in abusive racist behavior, maintaining policies that keep guards in poverty, and violating labor laws concerning overtime and time-off. Cases of racism were reported in South Africa, where a G4S manager in Pretoria sanctioned “white only” toilets, and G4S supervisors were found to be using racial slurs to command the guards. It cites a Malawi professor who found that 95 percent of G4S guards surveyed said their pay barely covers rent and food. Additionally, this report showed that G4S pays guards only one third of the required overtime rate.
In the United States, G4S plays a role in the detaining and transporting of undocumented people prior to their deportation or judicial review within the U.S. and along the border, as outlined in a G4S case study entitled, "The Bus No One Wants to Catch: The End of the Road for Illegal Immigrants." As the sole transportation provider for U.S. Customs, G4S is also profiting from the militarization of infrastructure along the US Mexico border. According to their website: "Today, along the U.S.-Mexico border more than 600 G4S Custom Protection Officers operate more than 100 vehicles used to transport the huge number of people who have been captured illegally trying to cross the border into the US."
In Australia, G4S operates all of the country’s immigration detention centers and has been criticized for inhumane practices while transporting detainees. Examples of such instances include denying detainees water or access to a toilet on a seven hour bus trip and the death of an Aboriginal man who died in custody due to extremely high temperatures in the transport van.
In the UK, G4S runs immigration removal centers, holding facilities, and youth security centers, as well as the transportation of prisoners, migrants, and asylum-seekers. Campaigns have sprung up throughout the UK protesting the treatment of migrants and asylum-seekers at such facilities, such as alleged physical assault, racial abuse, and inadequate investigations into such complaints. The death of Jimmy Mubenga is one such example. In October 2010, three G4S security guards were responsible for the death of this 46-year old Angolan deportee while restraining him in an airplane seat as he shouted out for help. The Guardian has reported that G4S guards in the UK had been repeatedly warned about the use of potentially lethal force on detainees and asylum seekers before the death of Mubenga—including the type of hold these men used on him. Additionally, an internal document urged management to take a stand before “the worst happens” because G4S was "playing Russian roulette with detainees' lives." To this day no one has been charged with his death.
Yet Jimmy Mubenga has not been the only death at the hands of G4S staff. Another is that of Eliud Nguli Nyenze, a Kenyan man who died at a removal center run by G4S. An inquest revealed that he had been refused medicine earlier in the day despite his complaints of severe pain. G4S was stripped of its British Safety Council award (commitment to improving health and safety) following the incident. Yet another death was that of fifteen-year-old Gareth Myatt, who died while being restrained by three employees of the Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, run by G4S. Despite earlier incidents where this type of hold had led to hospitalization and severe injuries, and despite Gareth yelling that he could not breathe, the hold was not lifted and he died, choking.
G4S received over 700 complaints from migrants held in G4S immigration detention centers in the UK in 2012, including 48 complaints of assault. Only 25 of the 700 complaints were upheld. Another detention center run by G4S at Gatwick Airport, was “branded ‘wholly unacceptable’ for women and children” according to the chief inspector of prisons. These were due to conditions such as unnecessary force against children, a prison-like culture, long detainees of children, no qualified childcare staff, lack of a safe space for women and children, dirty transportation, and unprofessional conduct of escort contractors. Similar complaints have been made about G4S-run holding facilities at Manchester Airport. G4S runs 25 non-residential short-term holding facilities (STHFs) which inspection reports reveal to have common deficiencies such as prolonged detention, use of force, inadequate staff, and so on.
First, a note on the history of G4S: a main subsidiary of G4S is G4S Secure Solutions, formerly known as The Wackenhut Corporation. A subsidiary of The Wackenhut Corporation (now G4S Secure Solutions), called Wackenhut Corrections Corporation (WCC), was formed to take advantage of the newly emerging private prison industry. G4S was then an indirect owner of WCC, who is now known as GEO Group. However, in 2003, GEO Group (formerly WCC) became an independent company.
As the private prison industry has grown, along with the number of people incarcerated, so has the prison industrial complex. Corporations involved in private prisons profit immensely from these contracts and therefore have a vested interest in keeping this industry alive and well. Because corporations are difficult to keep accountable and hold to ethical standards, and have tremendous lobbying power, the shift from public to private prisons is particularly problematic. Companies like GEO Group and G4S are major stakeholders in the prison industrial complex, in the U.S. and worldwide. These companies lose money from decriminalization, soft prison sentences, low crime rates, and less strict immigration and deportation laws. This is problematic when companies use their lobbying power and campaign contributions to advocate for the opposite policies. For example, GEO Group has actually lobbied for harsher prison sentences.
In the United States, G4S runs multiple private “youth facilities”, or juvenile detention centers. G4S develops the security systems and technology for prisons and private security corporations. G4S is the world’s largest provider of "electronic monitoring services," including some of the infrastructure used to track and confine formerly incarcerated individuals here in the U.S.
In the UK, G4S prides itself on being the first private company to open and run a prison. The first prison to be transferred from public to private tender was Birmingham prison, which led to public backlash. There are now 6 private prisons in England and Wales operated by G4S. Among other complaints, there is controversy over their exploitation of the captive labor of prisoners who receive very low wages in order to create even more profit for the company.
In South Africa, according to G4S’s own website, “Mangaung Correctional Centre in South Africa is the second largest private prison in the world and, having played a part in its design and construction, G4S were awarded a 25 year contract to run the prison on behalf of the Department of Correctional Services.”
In Australia, G4S runs the Port Phillip and Mt. Gambier prisons. In Port Phillip, a prisoner has died under G4S watch. A note next to his body read “Asthma attack. Buzzed for help. No response.”