Hard though it may be to believe, its failure to fulfil the terms of its Olympics security contract is by no means the worst example of G4S’ work “securing your world”. Corporate Watch takes a deep breath and delves into the murky world of a company profiting from bungling and brutality on a global scale.
Born of the merger of Group 4 Falck and Securicor in 2004, the multinational security and outsourcing company G4S has grown to be the largest employer on the London Stock Exchange (657,000 staff members and counting) and has expanded its operations to 125 countries. The biggest security company in the world, it is focused on taking over more public services and using the experience and power gained in its 'core', European and US markets, to expand to what it calls 'developing' markets through an aggressive and ambitious series of acquisitions.
52% of G4S' revenue comes from guarding the property of other private companies and wealthy individuals, (in G4S speak: “secure solutions – non-government”). 27% comes from public contracts, or taking over public services such as prisons, immigration detention centres and, most recently, policing and welfare-to-work programmes (“secure solutions – government”). 17% comes from transporting other people's cash (“cash solutions”).
47% of the company's revenue comes from Europe, 30% from what it calls “developing markets” (by which it appears to mean everywhere except Europe and North America) and 23% from North America.
Transporting other people's money is the most visible part of G4S' operations. Hang around outside a bank for long enough and you'll see G4S guards in over-sized helmets clutching what looks like a petrol can, running to or from their blue SECURITY van, hoping they don't have to sound the WARNING signal in the event of an EMERGENCY.
G4S also keeps ATMs full of cash, checks for counterfeit money, designs, builds and manages purpose-built “high security cash centres”, and provides “secure international transportation of cash and valuables”, including currency, gems, precious metals and other valuables (through the G4Si subsidiary).
G4S has also proved itself adept at making money from money – it now also provides 'cash consulting', or “consultancy services to central banks and commercial banks on overall cash management strategy, bank note production and security and all aspects of cash cycle efficiency.”(Yes, you have read that correctly: banks are paying G4S to tell them how to manage their cash. And you thought the financial crisis couldn’t get much worse.)
G4S Cash Solutions breakdown, 2011:
1 Financial institutions 65%
2 Retail 19%
3 Other 16%.
Companies whose cash G4S currently gets its hands on include:
An Post (post office) pension payments in 2011
Bank of Montreal.
As well as manned security – human guards guarding something – which accounts for over 60% of the company's “secure solutions” work, G4S provides a range of other 'security' services, an increasingly broad definition that now includes:
- “Security systems” – including access control, CCTV, intruder alarms, fire detection, video analytics and security and building systems integration technology;
- “Monitoring and response services” – key holding, mobile security patrol and response services and alarm receiving and monitoring facilities;
- “Secure facilities services” – integrated facilities services for entire sites or estates for commercial customers and governments;
- “Risk management and consultancy services”, including mine detection and clearance services.
Snooping is also becoming a big part of G4S' work. The company is, for example, paid for insurance claims investigations for Aviva. Media reports recently also revealed that G4S meter readers were being used to secretly spy on pubs to check whether these were showing Sky’s Premier League football matches without licence. Whatever it is, if you're willing to pay, G4S will do it for you.
Industry sectors 'secured' by G4S include:
Energy – including oil, gas and nuclear operations.
Mining – especially in Africa and Latin America.
Aviation – “over 100 airports and more than 80 airlines in more than 40 countries worldwide”
Port security – G4S is providing security for 20 ports worldwide.
Sporting events, including Wimbledon, the Dubai Grand Prix and the London Olympics.
Companies putting their safety in G4S' hands include:
Bank of America
While cash transportation is the most visible part of G4S' business, its work running ‘public’ services is the most notorious. The company has earned intense criticism for numerous examples of cost-cutting, negligence and brutality. The latter has come from beatings and abuse of refugees in G4S-run detention centres and deportation flights, as well as deaths of people in G4S custody.
However, for G4S, public services are significant sources of income, though they only account for a quarter of total revenue, with security and cash services for private companies making up the majority.
For more details on G4S and outsourcing, please see the Policing, Prisons, Immigration and Welfare parts of this profile.
References  G4S Annual Report and Accounts 2011
 R Catton, 'Sky pays gasmen to spy on pubs', The York Press, 10.5.12
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