Below is a copy of a letter sent to Ashley Almanza, G4S Chief Executive Officer and John Connolly, Chair of the G4S Board of Directors by Dr David Scott on Friday 27th May 2016 following a discussion with themselves and other board members at the close of the 2016 G4S AGM.
Dear Ashley and John,
I am writing to you following our conversation at the G4S Annual General Meeting [AGM] on the 26th May 2016. Our discussions focused on ethics and human rights. The G4S 2015 Annual Report and Accounts emphasises the values underscoring the company as an “ethical organisation” (G4S, 2016a, page 20) and the 2015 Corporate Social Responsibility Report [CSR] highlights the “G4S ethics code” (G4s, 2016b,page 32) and its commitment to “an open approach to addressing human rights issues” (page 29). In the two hours of questions at the AGM this year, however, nearly every question focussed on the failure of G4S to meet such commitments. In this letter I would briefly like to highlight three specific points regarding this commitment to human rights and offer some ways in which you could work towards enhancing this.
My first point concerns the manner of the removal of peaceful protestors from the AGM. For example, in one case the shirt of a women protestor was ripped by G4S guards and afterwards she had marks on her arms. The reputation of G4S is not well served through such treatment. It is imperative that G4S find a more human rights compliant way of responding to such democratic encounters in the future.
My second point is more substantial. During the AGM I highlighted the ‘human rights leitmotif’ expressed in the meeting and suggested that G4S undertake a ‘human rights audit’ of their work. This suggestion was accepted as a recommendation by the chair. Such a human rights audit should expand upon the current understanding of human rights in the 2015 CSR report. On page 20 of the 2015 CSR Report it is stated that “our respect for human rights is core to the sustainable success of our business and continue to be an important part of our risk assessment and mitigation process.” The language of human rights means more than ’business risks’ and should be understood as a commitment to legal covenants and arising ethical responsibilities. Most notably human rights entail the recognition of the inherent human dignity of other human beings and a culture of respect. G4S would benefit enormously from an independent review drawing upon a range of external experts in the field of human rights.
I would also encourage G4S to cultivate an aspiration, from top downwards, of becoming a world leader in the promotion of human rights. This means striving to not only meet human rights standards but to also transform the organisational culture so that the G4S slogan of ‘securing the world’ becomes synonymous with the protection of human dignity. The scope of your human rights audit could then entail local and global action plans on how human rights policies and outcomes can be enhanced; human rights training of staff and how good practice in recognition of the dignity of others can be best rewarded; the development of human rights champions within different parts of the organisation to create cultural change and the formation of a new ‘Human Rights Committee’ dedicated to promoting human rights governance; a strengthening of the ‘speak out’ whistle-blower policy documenting human rights violations across the organisation, its subcontractors and other partners; and open, democratic and transparent processes which allow the voices of staff, service users, shareholders and other stakeholders to be heard in way that is compliant with respect and dignity.
My third point relates to existing practice in HMP Altcourse, Liverpool, regarding the treatment of prisoners who have attempted to take their own lives. Six prisoners have died at the prison since 2013, including the high profile deaths of Connor Smith and Andrew Bain, and there were 900 reported incidents of self-harm in 2013, up from 290 in 2009. At the AGM it was noted that self-harm figures in prisons run by G4S are now to be included in annual reports. I welcome this announcement. There is, however, a tragic pattern emerging of a significant failure of the duty of care. Lessons need to be learnt from such terrible events to ensure the safety and well-being of all those currently being held in the care of G4S. At one public meeting in Liverpool, attended by myself and more than 80 other people in February 2016, a prison custody officer detailed the alleged response of other staff to a prisoner who attempted to take their own life at HMP Altcourse. The allegation is that a prisoner who attempted to burn themselves alive by lighting matches in their clothing was mocked by prison custody officers. This is a serious allegation and I would like to request that G4S undertake a thorough investigation into the treatment and response of staff to prisoners who self-harm, experience mental health problems and / or experience or have acted upon suicidal ideation. Here I think G4S would benefit from engaging with experts in the field, such as INQUEST, who can work with you to help you identify new policies and practices that meet the requirements of human rights covenants and aspirations.
I look forward to learning more about this at the AGM next year.
G4S (2016a) Securing Your World: Integrated Report and Accounts 2015 London: G4S / Park Communications
G4S (2016b) Securing Your World: Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2015 London: G4S / Park Communications