Today’s decision by the UK National Contact Point (UK NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines) to accept in their Initial Assessment that issues raised in LPHR’s complaint regarding the activities of G4S PLC in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) are substantiated and require further examination, is both ground-breaking and significant.
Ground-breaking because it marks the first time that the implementation mechanism for the OECD Guidelines has been successfully utilised to this stage in the procedure regarding the relationship between activities of a corporation and adverse human rights impacts against Palestinians in Israel and the OPT.
And significant because of its potential to enable positive change to Palestinians adversely affected by serious, continuing and pervasive international law and human rights violations. The emphasis of the process is on the two parties coming together and seeking to mediate a satisfactory resolution to the issues raised. LPHR is hopeful the next stage in the process offers the opportunity to substantively engage with G4S PLC to facilitate corporate respect and accountability for the human rights of Palestinians.
Business conduct and human rights
The nexus between business and human rights is rapidly developing as an important area of domestic and international focus. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines) has a fundamental role in this context. The OECD Guidelines provide for responsible business conduct which governments encourage companies to observe wherever they operate. In 2011, the Guidelines were updated to incorporate distinct recommendations in relation to internationally recognised human rights standards, including the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The relationship between business conduct and human rights has acute importance in the context of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. There is significant evidence-based concern that multinational companies are engaged in contracted work which contribute to Israel’s alleged breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law adversely affecting Palestinians.
In this context, LPHR has established its Business and Human Rights project. The goal of this project is to be at the forefront of meaningful and expert engagement with corporate legal accountability processes, so to ensure multinational enterprises effectively meet their responsibilities to respect the human rights of Palestinians.
LPHR’s complaint against G4S PLC and human rights context
LPHR worked with human rights organisations based in the OPT and Israel to gather credible evidence of the involvement of G4S in human rights and international law breaches. LPHR subsequently filed a comprehensive human rights complaint with the UK NCP alleging that G4S, contrary to the OECD Guidelines, has breached their responsibility to respect the human rights of those affected by their activities.
G4S, a leading international security solutions group, and their subsidiaries in Israel, provide equipment and services to checkpoints in the Separation Barrier (the Wall) constructed by Israel predominantly within the West Bank including East Jerusalem, to the Erez Crossing located at the border between Gaza Strip and Israel, and to Israeli Prison Service prisons and detention centres (IPS Facilities) in Israel and in the West Bank.
As recognised by the International Court of Justice in 2004, the Wall was constructed by Israel in breach of its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. The existence and operation of the Wall gravely and without adequate justification infringes the rights of Palestinians residing in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, restricting access to essential services such as healthcare, even in cases of emergencies. Equipment provided and maintained by G4S for use within the Wall comprises a part of its unlawful regime.
The evidence in the complaint also shows that Palestinian prisoners in IPS Facilities, both in Israel and in the West Bank, are detained and treated in a manner contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. Palestinian children, whose detention is routine in such IPS Facilities, are particularly impacted by such infringements. Children as well as adults are reportedly subjected to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment, such as solitary confinement, beatings, verbal abuse, shackling, use of stress positions, humiliation and aggressive interrogation. G4S provide and maintain equipment in such prisons.
Co-operation and expertise
LPHR critically relied on the co-operation and expertise of human rights organisations in Israel and the OPT to assemble information and witness evidence to support the complaint. These organisations are: Who Profits, Defence for Children International Palestine, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Organisation, Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, Al-Haq, Military Court Watch and Al Mezan. We are extremely grateful to them for their invaluable contribution and, in particular, to the individuals who have contributed witness statements disclosing what were often painful and very difficult experiences.
Common interest and resolution
The structure of the implementation mechanism for the OECD Guidelines reflects a notion that civil society and corporations have a common interest with adhering governments to ensure that multinational enterprises respect the human rights of those affected by their activities. The primary recourse – following the initial assessment – to a mediation and conciliation platform demonstrates that facilitating a consensual resolution of serious and substantiated issues is considered to be both realistic and desirable. LPHR absolutely supports this view.
As summarised in the UK NCP’s Initial Assessment, our complaint ‘asks that the company provides information about where and how its equipment is used and what due diligence checks have been conducted in providing it. The complaint also asks that the company stops servicing the equipment, to remove it, to agree to an independent audit of these actions, and to agree to identify ways to compensate people who have suffered adverse impacts’.
We look forward to further engaging with G4S as the matter proceed and for a resolution which meets the objective of ensuring that the company’s activities in Israel and the OPT does align with their responsibility to respect the human rights of Palestinians.
Tareq Shrourou – Director of LPHR
- Initial Assessment by the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Complaint from Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR) against G4S, May 2014, Page 3, Paragraph 3