Alex Phillips: my view of the RJN action at the G4S AGM

Alex Phillips was one of 6 RJN members that attended the G4S annual AGM to question their profiteering from prison expansion and prison labour. Here is her report of the action. Find alex @MsAlexP. If you’d like to help us monitor G4S’s role in the prison system then join us here and let us know.

I have to say that I felt that entering the G4S AGM was more intimidating than going to visit a high security prison! I know I commented to a few people as we left that I was surprised we weren’t give a rub down on the way in – everything else but! On reflection, it was very interesting that we were all treated with such suspicion, if their conscience was clear (as they so often repeated), then what reason would they have to be nervous? (Sorry to use a “policing” phrase).

The AGM was opened by the chair and there were disruptions by shareholders almost from the start. A large number of protesters were focused on the role of G4S in the detention of Palestinians. The reaction of G4S security guards to these protests was appalling. Protesters were pulled from their seats, dragged kicking and screaming out of the room, with sometimes attempts by security staff to muffle their protests.
I have thought a lot about the brutality that we witnessed during the AGM. At first I was ashamed of myself for not standing up and questioning the use of force / complaining about it as it happened, but in truth I was too petrified by what I saw to do anything – 2 women sitting next to me were dragged over me by the wrists by up to 4 enormous men and ejected from the room. I thought a lot about that today and realised that that is exactly the type of fear that is purposefully created by officers within prisons to quash any attempt that prisoners might make to unify in order to defend themselves and fight for their rights. The protesters were non violent and the use of force against them was unreasonable. I for one will be making a complaint to G4S about how they handled the situation.

My question was: My question regards the working prisons: working people initiative. My understanding is that there are several hundred prisoners who are working 40 hour weeks at around £2 a day. We as shareholders must be benefiting hugely from this financially – how much extra profit are we making as a result of this initiative and how many more prisoners do you think we can get employed in this way and what are the plans for expansion?

The answer I received from Ashley Almanza was that G4S did not profit from this labour. He was adamant that no profit was made and repeated this several times. He also said that the work was not mandatory.

I questioned him on this (that the work was not mandatory) the majority of people in prison are required as part of their sentence plan to gain meaningful employment in order to progress throughout their sentence or progress in the IEP scheme, so yes, whilst it is not mandatory, there really isn’t much choice. I suggested that working conditions like this were akin to modern slave labour.

He repeated again that no profit was made from the work and that slavery is illegal so of course this doesn’t amount to slavery.

We all agreed afterwards that we were pleased that he had said on the record, that G4S do not make a profit – I think that some research should definitely follow on from this because when people are working such long hours with such low wages then someone, somewhere, must be benefitting.

I felt emotionally and physically drained at the end of the day, but I am still looking forward to going back next year and giving them hell.

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