Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Stops Investing in Intl Security Firm Accused Of Unethical Treatment of Migrant Workers

The $1.1 trillion wealth fund can no longer invest in G4S because of the “unacceptable risk” that the security services company contributes to/ is responsible for human rights violations.
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Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has banned investment in  the British security services company G4S because of the risk that it has consistently taken part in the human rights violations of thousands of migrant workers in the Middle East.

The Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) — or the Oil Fund, as it is better known— decided to exclude investing in G4S out of their $1.1 trillion capital on the basis of an assessment of the company’s operations in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, conducted by the Council of Ethics (the fund’s ethics watchdog).

The Council discovered that migrant workers in the two Gulf countries were effectively kept in “debt bondage” by being made to pay recruitment fees so as to join the company, having their passports taken away after being taken in, and being paid less than agreed. Migrant workers were found to have taken out loans to pay “recruitment fees” of as much as £1,400 to work for G4S. They were then paid monthly salaries of between £100 and £130, which meant they would not be allowed to leave.

In a separate statement, the Council on Ethics noted, “When the workers arrive in the Gulf, they must spend a significant part of their salary to pay off this debt, and therefore have little chance of leaving. Many also received far lower wages than agreed, and in the Emirates, the workers got their passport confiscated.” The Council’s investigations also revealed long working days, a lack of overtime payment and examples of harassment. The statement can be found here [published in Norwegian].

As per the Ethical Guidelines which the Council of Ethics is required to ensure the fund follows, companies may be put under observation or be excluded if there is an unacceptable risk that the company contributes to or is responsible for serious or systematic human rights violations, such as deprivation of liberty and forced labour.

Reuters reported that the issue of human rights in the Gulf States has long been on the agenda of the fund’s ethics watchdog. It had looked previously at the practice of the construction companies working in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, among other companies. It reported that the fund gradually sells shares in any company it wishes to drop before any announcement is made, so as to remove the ethical risk.

About G4S

According to its website, G4S is the world’s largest security company measured by revenues with 546,000 employees in over 90 countries. In 2014, it was reported to be the world’s third-largest private employer.

Quoting a letter it received from the company this year, the Ethics Council reportedly stated that G4S employs around 18,000 workers in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The company is the world’s largest private security company with more than half a million employees in 90 countries.

In a public statement, G4S stated that it agrees migrant workers deserved to be treated with dignity and respect, and said it had hired a migrant worker coordinator to address the issues raised by the council. The Guardian reported a spokeswoman saying, “We carried out a robust investigation into the issues raised by the Council on Ethics into G4S’s employment practices in Qatar and the UAE. We are making good progress on our action plan to reinforce our high standards in relation to employee recruitment and welfare provisions in the Middle East.”

This is not the company’s first brush with accusations of unethical labour force acquisition. In 2014, they were accused of using immigration detainees as cheap labour inside detention centres in order to save them millions of pounds. Some detainees reportedly said they were being paid as little as £1 per hour to cook and clean.

They were also accused of being complicit in Israel’s brutal system of incarceration and abuse of Palestinian political prisoners by the BDS National Committee during the Palestinian Prisoners’ Movement in May 2017.



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