Laurie Penny: Don’t listen to what G4S say. Look at what they do
I mention all this because G4S will shortly be patrolling the London Olympics with more than 10,000 private security agents. The British-based company, billing itself as the “world’s leading international security solutions group”, will be the main provider of all manner of surveillance services to the Games, which will all cost hundreds of millions to the British taxpayer – a bill which has tripled from original estimations. Questions are being asked in Parliament about G4S’s human rights record, but the biggest question has yet to be raised: are we really happy for global security, from prisons to police, to be in the hands of private firms that turn immense profits from the business of physical enforcement and are accountable almost exclusively to their shareholders?
The first thing you need to know about G4S is that it’s enormous. It has 657,000 employees – more than the population of Glasgow – and is the world’s second-largest private employer, after the American retail giant WalMart. It’s also booming, with profits up 39 per cent in 2011. In Britain, G4S is the recipient of hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of government contracts, which go way beyond the Olympics. G4S operates prisons and asylum centres across the UK, and will be moving into policing as more and more public services are cut. The company is, in fact, one of the main financial beneficiaries of the Coalition Government’s privatisation drive as the state seeks to divest itself of various expensive responsibilities.