Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, has begun divesting his philanthropic foundation from the controversial UK security firm G4S, after coming under pressure to ditch his shares in the beleaguered company.
G4S has been subject to heavy criticism for a number of its operations, but in recent months much anger has focused on its work in the Israeli prison system.
The company has been accused of being complicit in human rights violations against Palestinian political prisoners, including child prisoners.
The charitable foundation Gates runs with his wife Melinda bought a £110m stake in G4S in June 2013, investing in more than 3% of the company. When campaigners learned of the move, hundreds urged the couple to divest. In April, a petition was delivered to the foundation’s offices around the world.
On Wednesday, a new filing at the London Stock Exchange shows that the investment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been reduced to below 3%.
“We are glad the pressure on the Gates Foundation to divest from G4S is starting to work”, said Rafeef Ziadah, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, one of the organisations that had criticised the investment.
“We urge the foundation to sell any remaining shares it still holds and release a public statement pledging not to invest in corporations profiting from Israel’s military occupation.”
In a statement, the Addameer Palestinian Prisoner and Human Rights Association added, “We have been arguing that it is completely unacceptable for a charitable foundation to be investing in a company, like G4S, which participates in gross human rights violations against Palestinian political prisoners, including child prisoners.”
The campaigners pledge to continue targeting all G4S shareholders until the company ends its contract with the Israeli prison services. War on Want says it will also send activists to the company’s annual shareholders meeting in June.
Earlier this month, G4S lost its third UK chief executive in two years after Eddie Aston quit just seven months into the job after a series of scandals.
On top of the controversial operations in Israel, the company is currently under investigation by the UK Serious Fraud Office for overcharging the government for tagging criminals who were dead or still in prison.
G4S employees have been accused of using excessive force in multiple cases, while an investigation also found that the firm was already aware of failings in its vetting procedures before contractor Danny Fitzsimons shot dead two colleagues in Iraq in 2009. It was later revealed Fitzsimons was on bail for firearms offences and was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.