Thursday 14 November 2019 11:29 am

Norwegian wealth fund blocks investment in security giant G4S on human rights concerns

Norway’s £860bn sovereign wealth fund has blacklisted investment in one of the world’s biggest security companies, G4S, because of an “unacceptable risk” of human rights abuses against its workers in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

London-listed G4S employs around 18,000 people in the two countries – part of its more than half-a-million global workforce which includes security guards, cash handlers and prison officers.

Read more: G4S loses permanent contract for ‘war zone’ Birmingham prison

The wealth fund, which is the largest in the world, includes an ethics watchdog to monitor investments, the Council of Ethics. 

Focusing on the treatment of migrant workers from India, Pakistan and Nepal by recruitment agencies for G4S, the council said this morning that some people had their passports confiscated and were paid less than agreed when they arrived in the Gulf.

It said some had borrowed money to pay fees to get their jobs with the firm, but were then stuck in Qatar and the UAE because they were unable to pay off their debt.

“When the workers arrive in the Gulf, they must spend a significant part of their salary to pay off this debt, and therefore have little chance of leaving. Many also received far lower wages than agreed, and in the Emirates, the workers got their passport confiscated,” it wrote.

“The council’s investigations also revealed long working days, a lack of overtime payment and examples of harassment,” it added.

G4S shares on the FTSE 250 fell as much as 3.6 per cent this morning, before recovering to 1.8 per cent down, valued at 204.8p.

At the end of 2018, the fund held a 2.3 per cent stake in the company worth about £70m, according to fund data.

City A.M. understands the decision was made in April, ahead of today’s announcement. When a company is excluded, the fund progressively sells its stake ahead of this date.

At the last internal company register, Norges Bank held just 0.3 per cent of G4S shares.

The company said in response that it agrees “wholeheartedly” that migrant workers should be treated well, and that it had engaged with the council for the last three years on the issue.

Read more: G4S to spin off cash handling business

It added that it had carried out a “robust investigation” into the matter. “We are making good progress on our action plan to reinforce our high standards in relation to employee recruitment and welfare provisions in the Middle East,” a spokesperson added.

They said the firm had employed someone full-time to look into recruitment agencies in the countries in question, in a bid to guarantee “strict compliance with our code and that our policies and standards of employment are upheld”.