It has emerged that the Labour Party decided at its national executive meeting on Tuesday to boycott the private security company, G4S, that has provided its conference security in recent years because it helps Israel run prisons at which Palestinian political prisoners are held without trial and subjected to torture. Protests have taken place both outside Labour’s conferences in recent years about the issue.
G4S provides equipment and services to Israeli prisons at which political prisoners are held without trial and subjected to torture. In October alone, Israel arrested over 1,000 Palestinians as a means to stifle Palestinian popular resistance. Many of these people will be held in Israeli prisons that G4S is helping to run. By helping Israel to run such prisons and “interrogation centres”, G4S is participating in Israel’s use of torture and mass incarceration of more than 6,000 Palestinians as a way to discourage any action to resist its occupation.
G4S also has contracts with the Israeli government to provide equipment and services to checkpoints that make up the Apartheid “separation” wall, crossings that enforce the siege of Gaza and Israeli police stations. G4S guards also operate at various Israeli military bases. In 2012, at the height of a historic hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners, Palestinian organisations called for action to hold G4S accountable for its role in Israel’s prisons.
International campaigning by organisations such as War on Want has had a huge impact on G4S:
- In June 2014, the Gates Foundation divested the whole of its $170m holding in the company as a result of an international campaign.
- Universities in Oslo and Bergen refused to give G4S contracts over its role in Israel’s prison system following student campaigns. In the UK, at least 5 student unions voted to cancel contracts with G4S, and students successfully pressured 2 other universities not to renew contracts with the company.
- Major charities in South Africa, the Netherlands and elsewhere terminated contracts with G4S.
- The US Methodist Church, the largest protestant church in the US, divested from G4S after coalition campaigning brought the issue to a vote.
Facing mounting international pressure, G4S announced in 2014 that G4S “did not expect to renew” its contract with the Israeli Prison Service when it expires in 2017, and it has also said it will end some aspects of its involvement in illegal Israeli settlements. However, G4S continues to profit from Israel’s abhorrent prison system and has not withdrawn from any of its contracts with Israel.
War on Want argues that the company’s rapid growth in recent years has been “driven by the privatisation of security, warfare, prisons and a range of public services”. In a week that the G4S share price hit a 52 week low, it would do well to reconsider that failure without delay.
By taking this action, the Labour Party has boosted the campaign for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Although party managers have previously resisted pressure to boycott G4S, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader has resulted in the restoration of effective powers to the elected executive to make decisions on such matters in line with the party rule book. It is understood that the matter was pushed to a vote and carried by 12 votes to 4.