By Tom Anderson
Good Energy has decided to drop G4S as its meter reading contractor following complaints from customers that its contract with the notorious security giant flies in the face of its ethical policy.
A statement posted on the company’s website (and pointed out to customers raising concerns on Facebook, Twitter and so on) said Good Energy will start using Lowri Beck instead of G4S for its meter reading services from 20th August 2012. However, the changes will take a few months to complete as customer accounts have to be “transferred to the new company over a period of time.”
A Good Energy spokesperson told Corporate Watch: “the decision to change meter reading company was based on a number of criteria, including feedback from our customers… We’re particularly happy to be working with Lowri Beck as, like us, they are another independent company operating in the UK energy market.”
In 2008, G4S acquired AccuRead, which had been providing meter reading services to Good Energy for many years, and rebranded it as G4S Utility Services. Good Energy’s contract with the latter was a continuation of the previous arrangement.
Following revelations that G4S was providing meter reading services to a number of supposedly ethical energy providers, including Good Energy and Ecotricity, many Good Energy customers complained to the company about this unethical practice, citing allegations of serious human rights abuses by G4S (see this complaint letter, for example).
Good Energy initially responded to these complaints with a standard letter claiming the company will “continually review our options for our metering service needs, however there are real restrictions on smaller suppliers like us.”
The letter also appeared to defend G4S: “For your information, we believe that G4S Utilities take the concerns raised by our customers seriously. We have already raised these concerns with G4S and requested that they send us a copy of their Corporate Social Responsibility report, which they have done. They have also sent a letter to us addressing these concerns in detail which says: ‘We are totally committed to the welfare and safety of those in our care and have won many awards for the quality of that care’.”
Those who called up instead of writing were met with a similar response. According to one customer: “I called them recently to discuss this and waited a week for the promised call back from a manager who could actually tell me what was going on, before chasing them up only to find their phone system was completely down! Eventually got through… although they are making noises about stopping doing business with G4S, they haven’t made any commitment to customers to put in place policies and procedures to make sure that they have a way of dealing with any such issue in the future.”
But as the controversy circulated around the web, more and more Good Energy customers wrote to the company expressing their disappointment and threatening to switch to other providers. Others posted angry messages on social media sites, chat forums and so on. One customer wrote to an anti-nuclear mailing list: “I was shocked to find out that Good Energy used G4S. I guess a lot of stop-new-nuclear people, as well as me, use Good Energy, and that a lot of them would also be shocked.” Another customer tweeted: “@Good_Energy uses G4S for meter readings? Seriously? I’ll be switching the four accounts I have with them to Ecotricity tomorrow then.” And another: “@Good_Energy I support asylum seekers and wouldn’t want @G4S_UK staff checking my @good_energy electricty meter.”
Activists from the growing Stop G4S campaign celebrated the news of Good Energy ditching G4S as “a small victory.” Next step: Ecotricity, another ‘ethical’ energy provider that uses G4S meter reading services.
spectrumgolf · 20th August 2012 at 10:18 pm
So the power of social media to inflict damage onto a big corporate bad boy is possibly something to take notice of. But are G4S actually that bad. I think there are quite few more companies that are worthy of attention by a social media hit squad.
More and more businesses are having to deal with “the public” on the social media channels nowadays – most hate the idea or others simply mis-understand how to do it. I only hope that it causes some of these corporations to change for the better.
Corporate Marketing Manager – Spectrum Golf.