by Zoe Ann Zahariadis
If you’ve heard of G4S, you probably know about their 2012-London Olympics security scandal. However, G4S’s complicated and problematic history extends far beyond their 2012 scandal. As their applied research project, students Quah Wei Vei, Jason Nemerovski, and Nina Lam explored the exploitative nature of G4S Qatar (important to note that G4S Qatar is an autonomous franchise of G4S global, a private security firm)’s recruitment fees. This event, “Diligence is Due: Fair Recruitment Now”, consisted of some big names in the labor world: Eddy Stam, head of UNI Property Services; Ruth Hopkins, an investigative journalist; Jamie Williamson, executive director of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers Association; and Alix Nasri, a technical specialist for the International Labor Organization’s project office in Qatar. The event was moderated by Delidji Eric Deglia, a professor at the Graduate Institute.
Jason, Wei Vei, and Nina began the event with audio clips of the former and current G4S Qatar employees they interviewed. As Ruth Hopkins said, “We can get lost around concepts of human rights…we lose sight of the fact that we are talking about human suffering.” The students made a great emphasis on the fact that the issues discussed affect real people and that their lives could be completely turned upside-down by the problem of recruitment fees. Recruitment fees are fees paid by employees to agencies that consist of the cost of their visa, vaccinations, costs for training, uniforms or supplies, etc.
Jason and Wei Vei first began by contextualizing G4S Qatar in relation to G4S and presented their research questions and results. G4S is a global private security company, employing over 533,000 employees in over 80 countries. G4S Qatar, however, is autonomous and is owned entirely by the Al Attiyah family, influential Qatari government members. They revealed that 39 out of 40 workers interviewed paid recruitment fees, averaging $ 1, 525. These recruitment fees are, on average, 4.6 times the reported monthly salary, forcing many workers in debt bondage. With debt bondage and unfair recruitment practices from the start, workers have an increased likelihood of being subjected to exploitative work practices.
The panel underscored how imperative it is for fair and ethical practices to be embedded throughout the employment process. The panel emphasised that workers should not be required to pay recruitment fees and should not be deceived in their contracts. Jamie Williamson highlighted the importance of transparency throughout the recruitment process, and added that the narrative around the concept of recruitment fees needs to shift. The concept of paying hundreds of dollars in fees for securing work has become so normalized and embedded in cultures and current practices that, even though it is unethical and absurd, it is expected, she said.
All workers deserve fair and ethical treatment, the panel and the team acknowledged and added that going against powerful companies like G4S and G4S Qatar is not an easy task Jason, Wei Vei, and Nina concluded the event with recommendations as to how to tackle the issue along with their possible degree of impact. As per their findings, the most impactful solution for G4S Qatar will be the immediate elimination of recruitment fees and reimbursing both former and current employees. Jason, Wei Vei, and Nina also called on the national and host country governments to prohibit recruitment fees, as well as calling on G4S to take ownership over their entire supply chain. “If we can move Qatar, if we can move G4S on one issue, the rest will follow,” Eddy Stam said, ending the panel on a motivating note.