by Justin Cohen
The committee overseeing Labour’s annual party conference has rejected a proposal to boycott G4S, Jewish News understands.
The firm had provided security for the conference for more than a decade but the party’s governing body last week voted to sever ties with the company over its work in Israel.
Supporters of Israel said the decision “drove coach and horses through the party’s long-standing opposition to BDS’, while the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council said the move called into question Labour’s commitment to security and opposition to boycotts. It came on the very same day that shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn called for Labour to take on those who delegitimise the Jewish state.
But now the Conference Arrangements Committee has rejected the boycott and referred the issue back to the national executive committee, which meets again in January. It decided that such a move would leave only one company in the tender process to provide security, inevitably forcing up costs, party sources have told this newspaper.
Luke Akehurst, director of We Believe in Israel and a former member of the NEC, said:”After this deplorable decision it’s reassuring that there are voices of common sense and fairness being expressed within labour’s structures. One can only hope that the decision will be reversed and G4S will not be discriminated against because of their links to Israel.”
In a page dedicated to G4S on its website, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign says the company provides services and equipment to checkpoints in the West Bank and for “major Israeli prisons which hold Palestinian political prisoners from occupied Palestinian territory inside Israel”.
It is understood some in the meeting believe the vote was not linked to BDS. While insisting the move was not a boycott of Israel, NEC member Jennie Formby, political director of the Unite union, confirmed to Jewish News the decision was taken “because of concerns this company has acted unethically and has been found in breach of the human rights obligations of the OECD guidelines for multinational companies”.
Claiming that more than half of NEC members were present for the discussion, she said in a statement: “The issue of G4S was raised during an agenda item reviewing the party conference. The Labour Party was founded to advance justice and fairness at home and abroad. Members from across the party had consistently expressed concerns that G4S’ conduct is not consistent with those values.”
But in June, a major investigation into allegations from Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights about regions in which G4S operates, found no failure “to respect human rights in regards to its operations”.
A report by the UK National Contact Point for the OECD said that, while evidence “establishes there are adverse human rights impacts associated with the facilities and locations referred to in the complaint”, it fails to indicate that G4S staff or equipment “play a direct part in these impacts”.
However, it said the company’s “actions are not consistent with its obligation under the OECD Guidelines to address impacts it is linked to by a business relationship” until it makes these efforts public.
Although not a formal policy-making body, the NEC is responsible for overseeing the overall direction of the party and the policy-making process, and conference security comes under its governance remit. G4S – which has provided security at the party’s annual conference for more than a decade – said it had yet to receive any “formal clarification” of what the vote will mean.
Labour declined to comment on decisions taken in internal meetings but a spokesperson said: “G4S has provided services to Labour Conference for a number of years. There is no pre-existing contract for the 2016 conference and decisions about future contracts are continually reviewed.”