ISS, one of the largest companies in Denmark confirms to DanWatch that they provide various services for settlements in the Golan Heights and the West Bank – areas occupied by Israel, whose ownership is not acknowledged by the UN. According to experts and politicians, this is incompatible with ISS' ethical profile.
Danish CEO of ISS Maarten van Engeland is chairman of the Danish CSR Foundation. The foundation organises the CSR Awards, which honour Danish corporations. At the same time, the company operates in conflict zones which, according to Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs Villy Søvndal, ”pose a serious obstacle to peace.”
DanWatch now reveal that ISS is also a player in the security industry in settlements – activities for which the security firm G4S has previously been criticised. And that is no good when trying to uphold an ethical profile, according to MEP Margrete Auken: ”It would be beneficial for the peace process if decent international companies signalled that they would not operate in settlements,” she says about ISS.
Head of Group Communications at ISS Kenth Kærhøg confirms that ISS through subsidiaries carries out catering, cleaning, pest control and security services for Israeli customers in Palestine's West Bank, and adds that ”ISS usually does not operate in conflict areas.”
Despite principles of not working in conflict areas, ISS is not worried about operating in illegal settlements, says Kenth Kærhøg. ”ISS believes that one can work in the West Bank and in Golan without being part of a conflict or discussion of territorial rights.”
Jeff Halper, Director of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, an organisation with expertise on West Bank infrastructure, disagrees: "It is not true that you can operate in settlements and be a part of the conflict, because settlements are the heart of the conflict. "
"The private security companies are part of a strategy to lower the Israeli military profile in the West Bank to normalize the settlements. Part of that process is privatization, including security. So whether you are involved in perimeter security or securing private companies, you are a part of normalisation of settlements,” Jeff Halper says, “but the problem is, it is not normal. The occupation is illegal and all of the settlements are illegal.”
ISS has signed UN Global Compact, a set of guidelines on corporate governance. But this requires special precautions, says CSR expert Mads Øvlisen: ”In my view, it is obvious that companies operating in conflict zones have special obligations and a special information duty. In principle, you should make sure you are not complicit in causing damage/violating human rights and that your activity promotes peace and development in the area,” says Mads Øvlisen. ”Therefore these considerations should be included in the due diligence that must be carried out, which often should include a dialogue with local stakeholders, among these local minorities, and that members of the Global Compact provide exhaustive and comprehensible information on the company's policy and activities in the area.”
However, in Margrete Auken's view, corporate operations in settlements are incompatible with the UN Global Compact: ”ISS is not contributing to the credibility of UN Global Compact if they operate in settlements, while being blind and deaf to what is going on.”
The news about ISS comes at a time when especially the focus of EU is on the Israeli settlements. On May 14 2012 the foreign ministers of the EU levelled their harshest criticism yet of these settlements during a meeting on the Middle East peace process. During the meeting, the ministers emphasised the illegality of the settlements and condemned the escalating violence perpetrated by settlers towards their Palestinian neighbours.
Other Danish security firms operating in settlements
ISS' involvement in illegal settlements in many ways resembles the story involving British -Danish security firm G4S that DanWatch brought to light in 2011. G4S, too, provides security services for companies located in West Bank settlements.
G4S' presence prompted former Minister of Foreign Affairs Mogens Lykketoft to say:
”Many will see it as Denmark being involved, since it is a Danish listed company. Therefore it is important for the government to stress that it is not Danish policy and to urge the company to pull out of the West Bank.”
In connection with the affair, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Lene Espersen urged G4S ”not to carry out activities which risk contributing to the continuation of illegal settlements.”
Kenth Kærhøg from ISS stresses that ISS don’t have many employees in the West Bank and the Golan Heights.