University of Helsinki cancels G4S contract over support for Israeli prisons

by Teivo Teivainen‎

The University of Helsinki changes its provider of security services. The previous provider was G4S, widely criticized for its alleged human rights violations in Palestine/Israel and elsewhere. This can be considered a victory for the campaign that had demanded that G4S be kicked out of the University of Helsinki. I feel happy.

I am not in the position to make any official statements about the reasons behind my university’s decision to discontinue relying on the services of the G4S. The previous contract was over, G4S was bidding for a new one and lost the bid. Nevertheless, I believe it is clear that our campaign had an impact on the process. Let me briefly remind you of some of the moments of the campaign.

In April 2014, there was a petition signed by people from across a range of faculties and positions at the University of Helsinki, asking the University of Helsinki to discontinue using the services of G4S. The petition was initiated by Syksy Räsänen and me. As a response, the rector Jukka Kola commented in Twitter that the university will look at the issue.

In June 2014, the biggest academic union of our university stated its support for the petition.

In February 2015 the Student Union of the University of Helsinki expressed its support for the petition.

As of June 2015, there will be a new company, called Turvatiimi, that takes care of the security services of our university.

This decision means that the name of the University of Helsinki will join the list of universities such as King’s College London, University of Southampton, University of Oslo and University of Bergen that have decided to take distance from G4S. While it is difficult to track all the reasons behind all the cases, in all universities there was a campaign against G4S. The company has been accused of complicity in serious human rights crimes, for example against children in Israeli prisons.

The campaign at the University of Helsinki did not take any more general position on academic or other kinds of boycotts related to Israel. The campaign was targeted around one company, on which there was enough evidence of its involvement in human rights violations so that a relatively wide constituency of concerned teachers, staff and students could express its concern.

It was also interesting to note that within the moderate media attention our campaign received, it was not only the more activist-oriented media but also outlets such as the web newspaper of the conservative Kokoomus party that highlighted our petition.

We sometimes used the claims of the University of Helsinki to be globally responsible in our campaign. In my experience, as I was repeatedly in contact about this issue with the leadership of my university, their way to handle this case always seemed professional. Even if I have repeatedly criticized the leadership of my university for various things, and probably will continue to do so in the future as well, in this case I am happy to congratulate them for the decision.