By Sarah Cobham
As the bombs continued to rain down on Gaza, on Saturday 26th July, Jon Snow of Channel 4 news hosted a debate at WOMAD festival around the theme of ‘Is the UK doing enough to tackle emissions?’ On the panel of ‘experts’ sat Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, the green electricity company that sponsored this year’s festival of music and dance from around the world.
Banners hanging from the roof of G4S’ UK office in Crawley during a rooftop occupation by activists in 2012
An hour into the debate Mike Gurney of Exeter Palestine Solidarity Campaign questioned the relationship between environmental and human rights concerns, and spoke about Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza. He was followed by Sarah Cobham, who brought the audience’s attention to Ecotricity’s meter reading contract with G4S (a company with an appalling human rights record which provides equipment to prisons and checkpoints on behalf of the apartheid state). She asked Dale Vince “When are you are going to end your contract with G4S which has such an appalling human rights record” to a resounding round of applause.
He clearly wasn’t surprised by the question, and announced:
“We’ve been troubled by some of the things G4S have done, and are alleged to have done, and we began the transition away from G4S probably about 6 months ago. We’ve switched meter reading in the biggest region of the country for us by customers, which is the southern region as a trial for a new supplier and we’re rolling out across the country. So, the answer to your question is that it’s already begun.”(1)
A group of Palestine solidarity activists had planned to hold an action as the debate ended (calling for Ecotricity to end its contract with G4S) but given Vince’s announcement, they cancelled their action and called on those present to join them in a processions around the festival site in solidarity with the people of Gaza.
In August 2012 Corporate Watch wrote an open letter to Ecotricity, stating:
“…we urge you – on behalf of many of your concerned customers – to drop G4S Utility Services as your meter reading provider. To quote your Environmental Policy (see here http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/about-ecotricity/our-eco-credentials/our-environmental-policy), we urge you to ‘reduce the impacts of [your] own activities… by encouraging and pursuing behavioural change, from both within [your] organisation and from without’.” (2)
This followed the decision of Good Energy to stop using G4S and transfer to a different meter reading company. Ecotricity currently have some very contradictory information on their website. They state:
“We are aware that some of our customers would prefer that we didn’t use G4S Utility Services, so, for these customers we will provide an alternative meter reading agent.
“We know there are issues with G4S. They’re an enormous organisation (operating in more than 125 countries with over 657,000 employees) and parts of this huge business have undertaken activities that we do not support.”
But they also imply that they expect to have long term contract with G4S, when they also state:
“We will be using G4S Utility Services and Lowri Beck to install smart meters for all our customers within the 4 year period from January 2016 to December 2020.” (3)
Ecotricity must be held to the statement made by Dale Vince at Womad 2014, and end their contract with G4S urgently.
(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skin9z7CkFc&feature=youtu.be (starts 1hr 3 mins into the video)