By Sophie Gregory
Durham’s People and Planet Society are continuing their campaign to disassociate the University from controversial outsourcing company Mitie Group plc.
As Palatinate has previously reported, Durham University has a £5 million contract with the company up for renewal, but People and Planet are urging against the extension due to allegations of human rights violations at the immigration detention centres that Mitie operates across the country.
Mitie, a FTSE 250 strategic outsourcing company, is the largest single private sector provider of immigration detention centres in the UK. Currently, it manages Heathrow (Colbrook and Harmondsworth) and Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs).
People and Planet, in conjunction with other groups, have been attempting to terminate the University’s business with Mitie, citing reports of overcrowding, poor sanitation, hunger strikes and lax fire safety procedure in the immigration centres it runs. Reports of detainees working for as little as £1 an hour and detainee suicide have also been a key focus of People and Planet’s campaign.
The group calls for the University to “end the Integrated Facilities Management contract with Mitie at the end of the current contract period, without permitting any extension (either long or short term in nature)”.
It also urges the University “[t]o the greatest extent permitted by the Public Contracts Regulations, if retendering this service (or any part of it) to include appropriate selection criteria to exclude any bidder which is guilty of socially-damaging practices, in particular the institutionalised mistreatment, subjugation and exploitation of vulnerable people”.
People and Planet have addressed two open letters to Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart Corbridge. In the second letter, the group challenged Mr Corbridge’s initial response to the first, which claimed that Mitie “has practices which are in line with the University’s values and standards”, by outlining how Mitie in fact appears to violate the University’s Corporate, Social and Environmental Responsibility (CSER) Policy.
Since the initial front-page Palatinate report in March, five college JCRs have passed motions expressing their opposition to the University’s ties with Mitie. These include Grey, Josephine Butler, St. Chad’s, St. Mary’s and St. Cuthbert’s. On Friday the 15th of June, Durham SU passed a motion “to publicly oppose and lobby against the University to ban future contracts with Mitie Group plc and similar companies operating detention centres”.
On the same day, People and Planet canvassed and wrote chalk messages on Kingsgate Bridge to inform people about Mitie’s inhumane treatment of detainees and human rights abuses. Bethany Holden, the campaign coordinator, said most students were unaware of the issue and when informed of it they “were very shocked and keen to support the campaign, with many signing the petition”.
Miranda Pettifer, a member of People and Planet’s Executive Committee, told Palatinate: “It’s hugely concerning that the University’s relationship with Mitie continues right under our noses whilst so few people know about their track record. We received some really positive feedback from both students and locals after trying to raise awareness, but there’s still much more to be done until the University finally grasps that it cannot continue to support such an abhorrent industry.”
Updates on the campaign are published on the Facebook group ‘Mitie Must Fall’, which can be accessed here.
Photograph: Durham University