G4S is a security company with roots going all the way back to 1901. So, how did they become one of the largest security contractors in the world doing important jobs like guarding the UK’s Royal Mint, provide security for the 2012 Olympics in London, and even fire protection and emergency response for NASA? The truth is, it hasn’t always been a smooth ride. Let’s take a look at how the company grew and the problems it encountered along the way.
Roots and Early Growth
The earliest origins of the G4S company can be traced all the way back to 1901 and a company called Copenhagen and Frederiksberg Night Watch that was started by Marius Hogrefe. Over time through expansions and acquisitions, this company eventually became known as Falck.
Falck was bought by a Danish insurance company in 1988 and continues to grow and expand. In 1991, they sell most of their shares and, two years later, Falck acquires the security business of ISS Securitas and becomes Falck Securitas. They expand into Sweden and Norway in 1996, into Germany, Poland, and Estonia in 1998, and into Netherlands and Lithuania in 1999.
In 1934, the Philip-Sørensen family started Securitas AB in Sweden. In 1968, became known as Group 4. The company went through a lot of expansion in the 1990s establishing themselves in Hungary, Belgium, Turkey, Austria, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, and later in Bangladesh.
Group 4 and Falck merged in the early 2000s and then, in 2004, merged with Securicor to from Group 4 Securicor, or the G4S company. Their new branding was rolled out in 2006 and, while they’ve continued to grow and be successful, the company has much been under a lot of scrutiny since the very beginning.
What They Do
Today, G4S is now the world’s largest security company and the third largest private sector employer in the world. They provide a wide range of general security services that are designed to work with their highly diversified customers located all over the world. They do a lot of work in the care and justice system providing custody, detention, and rehabilitation services.
Another service G4S offers is security consulting for to help their clients fully understand the risks they could face, how to prevent them from happening, and how to prepare to react to a crisis that does occur. A lot of these clients are located in sensitive environments where they may need to react to threats ranging from crime to terrorism.
While a large majority of guards and other employees who work for G4S are professional, hardworking people who do their job properly, some aspects of the company have faced criticism since its inception.
A growing part of G4S’s employees are military specialists who are hired to go into countries where the government might not have the ability, conviction, or desire to do what needs to be done. G4S is certainly not the only company in the business this kind of large-scale private-security, an industry that seems to always draw a lot of critics. One concern is that wealthy governments and oil and mining companies can hire private security contractors to basically do whatever they want to the poor.
There is a lot of money in the private security industry and G4S stands out from other companies because of its size. The billions of dollars flowing into the company aren’t generally seen as the right kind of motivation to do what’s best for a country or its people. But, because G4S is a publicly traded company, they are at the will of the shareholders and investors and stand firm when it comes to their business decisions.
The willingness to do what needs to be done and the will of shareholders in a multi-billion dollar industry don’t fully justify the many controversies that have surrounded G4S.
There were small things that demonstrated incompetence, like when G4S staff attached a house arrest device to a prosthetic leg. The criminal was then able to remove his leg and leave the house whenever he wanted to without anyone’s knowledge.
Of course, there are larger issues as well. In 2010, more than 700 complaints were filed from illegal immigrants in Britain accusing guards in G4S detention centers of assault and racism. In 2017, this problem was still ongoing as 9 staff members were suspended from the same type of center after an undercover investigation showed that guards were abusing and assaulting the people being held there.
G4S provided security for the 2012 Olympic Games in London and was largely criticized from the very start of their recruitment campaign. Former police officers called the operation “totally chaotic” as an organization was lacking and a lot of the guards didn’t know where they were supposed to be patrolling.
One of the biggest controversies involved G4S’s work in Israel and Palestine. G4S supplied security equipment along with service and maintenance for use in the West Bank at various checkpoints. They then went on to sign a contract to do security for two major Israeli prisons and of Palestinian political prisoners. Their involvement was protested as some felt they were involved in human right violations in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (It should be noted that a fellow at the University of Oxford found that the company’s role was not a direct cause of any such violations or human rights abuses.)
There are a lot of controversies surrounding G4S but, at their core, they serve their customers in whatever way they can. While that might not always be what the public judges to be appropriate, they’re still one of the major players in the private security industry. They’ve committed to social responsibility are making an effort to adhere to doing business in a way that’s ethically responsible. Because the company is so large, it comes in contact with millions of people every day, all around the world. Their goal is to positively impact the communities where they work and, with the right people, hopefully, they’ll continue to make strides to reach that goal.