G4S: “Securing Our World”

The Happy Face of World Security

G4S believes it is above the law. It refuses to follow our laws. I wish there were an international court that could deal with it.
—Helena Taipo, Mozambique Labour Minister

UK owned G4S (Group 4 Securicor) is the world’s largest private security firm and the world second largest private sector employer behind Wal-Mart. G4S guards can be seen all over Africa, usually protecting white people and middle/upper class Africans from late-night home invasions by angry, unemployed men, though they are also increasingly common in hotels, banks, supermarkets and other private businesses.

I was recently disturbed to see their presence all over Jackson, MS wearing the exact same cheap uniforms that their African counterparts have. In Africa, they are all, of course, African. In Mississippi, they are all black, and judging from a couple of short conversations I had with G4S guards, of poor families and only rudimentarily educated. In Malawi, I know that they are paid approximately $20 a month and work grueling 12 hour shifts. I don’t think they get days off. In the US, an hourly G4S guard can make about $11 an hour. Ironically, the job of a G4S worker is to protect wealthy customers from other people just like his or herself.

The presence of G4S (and other large, multinational security firms) represents a general failure of the state to provide security for itself and a fatalistic shift away from public owned security toward private solutions that benefit those that can pay for them. While this may please those who advocate for the total elimination of government from every aspect of peoples’ lives around the world, I find this to be a frightening prospect.

G4S Around the World

Crime against the wealthy is punished immediately and punitively through the violent response of G4S guards. Crime against the poor is tolerated and ignored as they do not have the means to pay for it. This is not to say that this phenomena does not exist in public models of laws-enforcement and security, but a shift toward wholly private systems of security, not only eliminates measures to promote accountability for the actions of individual police, but also eliminates the voice of the poor in determining what type of policing strategies will fit their communities.

In short, companies like G4S, create a two tiered system of policing, not unlike public/private models of health care that already exists in countries like the United States. An effective system exists for those who can pay for it, and a inadequate, deficient and underfunded system exists for those who cannot. Most disturbing is the wider implications of worldwide security companies like G4S. These companies, though making claims to follow local laws and regulations, are in truth only beholden to whoever contracts them. In weak and ineffective states, they are unaccountable to any government body. In essence, they become the worldwide police force for the world elite, accountable to no one, and given licence to protect the resources of the wealthy. It is a frightening prospect and undermines not only the legitimacy of states, but also the notion of democracy itself.

G4S Stock Over the Past 10 years

G4S has already been implicated in a number of scandals mostly involving work on violent deportations of Iraqi asylum seekers from the UK, the beating death of an Angolan asylum seeker in the UK, the suffocation death of a 47 year old aboriginal man in Australian during a prison transfer, and charges of racist employment policies, poor wages and slave labor like conditions in South Africa and Malawi.

Despite the bad press, G4S’s stock continues to rise in price and the company continues to rake in private and government contracts around the world. They claim $1.1 billion in British contracts and have managed to obtain multi-million dollar contracts to run immigration detention centers in the US.

From a report on African G4S Workers:

Shadreck Makwinja

Shadreck has worked for G4S Malawi for 12 years. He lives with his wife and
five children on the outskirts of Blantyre. He walks one and a half hours to reach
his post in Blantyre and another one and a half hours to return home each day. He
leaves for work in the dark around 4 a.m. each morning to reach his post before
his shift starts at 6 a.m. Shadreck’s shift lasts 12 hours. Until last year, he had
worked a total of an entire twelve months without a day off. His day off was to
attend a funeral.

Shadreck’s salary goes to support his wife and five children. He rents his mud
home for 850 kwacha (£3.13, US $6.23) a month. G4S provides guards with
a housing allowance— 480 kwacha a month (£1.76, US $3.52)— as every
employer is required to do. However, it is not enough to cover the rent payment.
Shadreck’s wife, Magret, was there when the delegation made its visit: Magret
said, “The life that we undergo is very pathetic, and what normally happens is
that when my husband goes to work, I have to make sure that I find a piecemeal
job from those people who are well to do … just to help my husband to find some
maize and some flour we can use to cook with. And talk about tea? To drink tea
out of this house—that is unheard of.”

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

2 responses to “G4S: “Securing Our World””

  1. lushfun says :

    Very interesting. I do not think its sustainable long term to be this large though. Went to wikipedia and they almost bought another company to becomes even larger.

    Your also ignoring the obvious, its only security until the payment clears if it doesn’t your instantly at a somewhat adversarial position. Another angle is that it is very “uncompetitive” if there is an actual organized “crime” or group of people that want to challenge it or whomever they are protecting. It really is more akin to a paper facade protection than reality since any organized intervention would breach it. I don’t see it working in Brazil if some favela gang decides to come down into a different neighborhood.

  2. Mark Maynard says :

    Interesting stuff. Thank you for making me aware of this company, Pete. I anxiously await my first encounter with them in America.

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