British private security giant G4S has announced plans to sell its entire Israeli business within the next 12 to 24 months. The news has been welcomed by activists in the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, for whom G4S has been a long-standing target.
The decision to leave Israel was revealed in the company’s full-year results released Wednesday, when the company reported a 40 per cent fall in its pre-tax profits.
The company said its plans to exit Israel were part of a “continuing portfolio management programme” designed to “materially improve our strategic focus.” The Israeli business employs 8,000 people with a turnover of £100 million.
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According to the Financial Times, G4S “is extracting itself from reputationally damaging work, including its entire Israeli business”, noting that human rights campaigners and BDS activists “have repeatedly attacked G4S’s work in [Israel].”
G4S provides equipment and services to Israeli prisons and detention centres, in which thousands of Palestinian prisoners are tortured and held – including without charge or trial. Israel also violates international law by jailing Palestinians outside of the occupied territory.
The company also has contracts with the Israeli authorities to provide equipment and services to Israeli checkpoints in the Occupied West Bank that form part of illegal Apartheid Wall.
In 2012, Palestinian groups “called for action to hold G4S accountable for its role in Israel’s prisons”, and since then, the campaign has inflicted growing economic and PR damage on the company. Activists say that G4S has since lost contracts worth millions of dollars around the world, with lost clients including private businesses, universities, trade unions, and United Nations bodies.
In 2014, the Bill Gates Foundation divested its $170m stake in the company following international protests. In the UK, at least five student unions voted to cancel contracts with G4S, and students successfully pressured two other universities not to renew contracts with the company.
The United Methodist Church, the largest protestant church in the USA, divested from G4S after coalition campaigning brought the issue to a vote. Just recently, as reported by Middle East Monitor, G4S lost a major contract in Colombia and a contract with UNICEF in Jordan, in both cases following campaigns by BDS activists.
Responding to the news of G4S’s planned withdrawal from Israel, Palestinian BDS National Committee spokesperson Mahmoud Nawajaa compared the pressure being felt by Israel to the boycott of Apartheid South Africa, and stated that BDS “is making some of the world’s largest corporations realize that profiting from Israeli apartheid and colonialism is bad for business.”
He added: “investment fund managers are increasingly recognizing that their fiduciary responsibility obliges them to divest from Israeli banks and companies that are implicated in Israel’s serious human rights violations, such as G4S and HP, because of the high risk entailed. We are starting to notice a domino effect.”
Nawajaa said the BNC was grateful “to all of the dedicated grassroots organizers around the world who are working in solidarity with Palestinians seeking freedom, justice, and equality”, but noted that the boycott of G4S “will remain among the BDS movement’s top priorities until we actually see its back out of the door of Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”
The caution is well-founded; G4S announced in 2013 that it would end its role in illegal Israeli settlements, checkpoints and one Israeli prison by 2015, but did not follow through. In 2014, G4S announced it “did not intend to renew” its contract with the Israeli Prison Service when it expired in 2017 but is yet to implement that decision.
In addition, Nawajaa claimed that owing to G4S’s involvement in the “racist mass incarceration business” in countries such as South Africa, UK, and USA, the BNC is “determined to work closely with partners to hold G4S to account for its participation in human rights abuses.”
In the last eight months, French multinationals Veolia and Orange and CRH, Ireland’s biggest company, have all exited the Israeli market. In January, the United Methodist Church put five Israeli banks from Israel on a “blacklist” due to their complicity in human rights violations, including the financing of illegal Israeli settlements.
Nawajaa said Israel is unable to “stop the impressive growth of BDS”, despite its efforts “to smear and delegitimize our nonviolent movement, including with anti-democratic laws in Europe and the US aimed at silencing dissent and suppressing our freedom of speech.”
“We believe strongly that our ethical approach and just cause will prevail, as this latest G4S announcement shows.”