The new boss of G4S, Ashley Almanza, faced a barrage of tough questions over the security company’s business in Israel at his first meeting with shareholders on Thursday.
Almanza was appointed chief executive of the world’s largest security company last month after Nick Buckles’ shock resignation that followed a string of mishaps, including failing to supply enough staff for the London Olympics last year.
Almanza, who joined the company in April from BG Group, repeatedly insisted that G4S was not in breach of international law.
One shareholder claimed that “children as young as 12 are being held in solitary confinement at G4S prisons”. He asked: “When will [the board] do the right thing and withdraw from providing services to the Israeli prison service.”
John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, which holds one G4S share in order to attend the company’s annual general meetings, said he was “profoundly concerned with G4S’s exposure in Palestine”.
Almanza insisted G4S was not complacent. “We believe this contract has not breached international law and we will continue to keep these matters under review, ” he said. “If we were making five times as much money in Israel, our judgement wouldn’t be any different.”
G4S employs 620,000 people in 125 countries, although fewer than 1% of its staff are in Israel. It recently announced that it was pulling out of providing a prison and barrier checkpoints in the West Bank from 2015, but will continue to run prisons inside Israel.
G4S chair John Connolly also sought to reassure shareholders the company had tightened risk procedures following the Olympics debacle that cost the company £88m.
The meeting was twice disrupted by flash protests over the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan national who died while he was being deported from the UK. Mubenga had been restrained by three G4S security guards.
Nikolaj Villumsen, a shareholder and Danish MP, said after the meeting he was concerned that G4S had not listened to criticism over its Israeli prison contracts. “In Denmark, it is a huge issue and in the city council of Copenhagen they are discussing whether to sever co-operation with G4S,” he said.
Israeli prison contracts take centre stage at G4S shareholder meeting