Nathaniel Rosenberg, Contibuting Photographer

Yalies 4 Palestine is calling on Yale to cancel its contract with a British security company that they say is committing human rights abuses around the globe.  

The student advocacy group began circulating a resolution at the end of March which urges Yale to cut ties with G4S — a British private security company that provides Yale Security with the technology to track swipes into campus buildings. Y4P alleges that G4S has been involved in a litany of violations of human rights around the world, including in Israel and South Africa and at the United States–Mexico border.

The Y4P resolution has been co-signed by 19 student and New Haven organizations, and a petition calling for Yale to divest from G4S has also amassed over 100 signatures.

“With this campaign, specifically, we want to provide students with an outlet to engage in the issue that’s very relevant to them,” said Craig Birckhead-Morton ’24, who is a co-chair of Y4P. “It’s not just about Palestine, in this case, because G4S, broadly, is a part of the system of mass incarceration that’s existed in this country since the 90s.”

When asked to discuss Yale’s relationship with G4S, Ronnell Higgins, Yale’s associate vice president for public safety and community engagement, provided an “independent review” report by two British academics who concluded that G4S’s activities in Israel were not in violation of international law.

“Yale University takes social responsibility and association with vendors seriously,” Higgins told the News. “AMAG Technology has assured the University that it is committed to providing worldwide apolitical, ethical, and socially responsible services. They also affirm a commitment to treating matters of human rights seriously and ensuring that the company conducts its business in a way that meets internationally recognized human rights laws and standards.”   

According to G4S, the service it provides to Yale is the Symmetry SR Retrofit System, which is manufactured by AMAG Technology, a company owned by G4S. Yale upgraded 5,200 access card readers and 947 door controllers to AMAG’s system beginning in 2014

G4S did not respond to a request to comment for the article.

G4S’s Human Rights Abuses

In their resolution, Y4P details a series of G4S clients and services that they allege are in violation of international human rights standards.

Within the United States, the resolution criticizes G4S for helping Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol in “imprisoning and deporting refugees.”

G4S was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2018 for keeping four women shackled for hours in suffocating heat. The company was serving as a contractor for ICE and kept the women in a windowless, airless van for a 282-mile trip between migrant detention facilities that took 19 hours longer than it should have, according to the lawsuit.

“G4S is a huge company that has a lot of different arms, where they generally profit off of the securitization and the military industrial complex,” said Rebecca Wessel ’24, a member of Y4P.  “Namely in Israel, but also in other places, they help with a lot of work that ICE does at the border to detain migrants, and have also been involved in human rights abuses in prisons all over the world.”

Y4P also highlights an April 2019 report by the Council on Ethics for the Norwegian Government Pension Global Fund which determined that G4S committed systematic human rights violations against migrant workers it employed to work in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The Council found repeated instances of G4S misleading migrant workers about their wages and working conditions. Workers also universally reported having their passports illegally confiscated by G4S, and several told stories of being forced to work while sick. 

In the conclusion of their report, the Council recommended that the Norwegian pension fund divest from G4S “due to an unacceptable risk that the company is contributing to systematic human rights violations.” And in November of 2019, the pension fund followed the recommendation, adding G4S to its list of excluded companies. 

In South Africa, Y4P organizers took issue with G4S operating Mangaung Prison, the second-largest private prison in the world. At Mangaung, G4S has been accused of torturing a prisoner to death, as well as forcibly administering electric shocks and anti-psychotic drugs to inmates to keep them subdued.

Birckhead-Morton emphasized that the violence G4S committed in South Africa was part of a legacy of European colonialism, with a wealthy British corporation imposing its will on a country that was largely Black and still impoverished.

“It’s gotten so bad, both in Britain and in South Africa, where some of these prisons, which were privatized and contracted out to G4S have been revoked,” Birckhead-Morton said. “I think once people hear that, there’s no doubt that they’ll want the university to cancel the contract.”

In Israel, Y4P organizers point to G4S’s 25 percent ownership stake in the Israeli security company G1 Secure Solutions, which until 2016 was completely owned by G4S. According to NGO WhoProfits, G1 Secure Solutions provides security services to Israeli settlements in areas of the occupied West Bank, settlements which are in violation of international law. 

Higgins did not respond directly to the allegations against G4S in the resolution. 

History of divestment

A number of prominent organizations have divested from G4S for their involvement in human rights abuses. 

On top of the Norwegian pension fund blacklisting G4S, the United Methodist Church did the same in 2014, explicitly citing the company’s then-involvement in Israeli prisons. The Danish pension fund MP Pension also divested from G4S in 2020, referencing the company’s “risk of repeated human rights violations.”

At Columbia University, students were successful in pressuring the university to divest from G4S in 2015. The University of California system also divested from G4S following student pressure the same year, and Cornell followed suit the next spring.

“Because of all the complicity, we are hoping that Yale can end its contract,” Wessel said. “We’ve seen other universities make similar choices, so we feel like it’s a realistic ask.”

Theia Chatelle ’25, the political action coordinator for the Yale Women’s Center, explained the center’s decision to sign on as part of their broader mission of fighting for justice around the world, whether that involves supporting student activism in New Haven or Palestinian organizers abroad.

“It’s Yale involving itself with evil corporations doing evil work around the world,” Chatelle said. “And I think drawing a line in the sand that says, ‘no, we as students are not okay with this’ is really important.” 

G4S made approximately $425 million in profit in 2020.

Correction 4/20: A previous version of this article misattributed quotes from Higgins to Houston. The article has also been updated to reflect that Yale does not have a contractual agreement with G4S, as well as that Yale did not purchase card readers from AMAG Technology but rather converted 947 existing access control panels to the AMAG SR panels.

Nathaniel Rosenberg is City Editor for the News. He previously served as Audience Editor, where he managed the News's newsletter content, covered cops and courts and housing and homelessness for the City Desk. Originally from Silver Spring, MD, he is a junior in Morse College majoring in history.