By Sophie Gregory
Durham University’s People and Planet Society have written a letter to Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge calling for Durham University to end its contract with Mitie Group plc, due to the company’s allegedly poor human rights record.
Mitie, a FTSE 250 strategic outsourcing company, has a contract worth £5 million with Durham University that is due to end soon. The company provides Integrated Facilitates Management for Durham and has been working with the University since 2010, with the contract being renewed again in 2014.
However, Mitie has repeatedly been accused of several human rights violations, prompting questions as to why the University continues to do business with them.
Though their work with Durham University focuses on a range of services including cleaning, landscaping, pest control and total security management, Mitie is also the largest single private sector provider of immigration detention centres in the UK.
Currently, it is in charge of the management of Heathrow (Colbrook and Harmondsworth) and Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centres (IRC).
Mitie’s treatment of those detained in these immigration centres has been viewed as unacceptable. Following an inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in 2016, Mitie’s provisions were deemed to be “in a severely insanitary condition.”
Standards of cleanliness and hygiene were deemed to be poor. Further, overcrowding was a problem, with bedrooms designed for two people housing three or four. Three hunger strikes and the suicide of a Moldovan man in 2011 have also been reported at the detention centres.
People and Planet’s letter further includes details of poor fire safety, writing that “a suicidal prisoner set fire to his bedding, resulting in nearly £1 million worth of damage to the centre because Mitie had failed to install sprinklers despite multiple requests by the fire services.”
In addition to this, official Home Office figures state that detainees are being used for cleaning and maintenance tasks. For these tasks, they are paid £1 per hour.
In their letter, People and Planet condemn this, saying that “Mitie profits from these exploitative practices which effectively treat some of the most vulnerable people in society as slave labour for corporations unwilling to pay the minimum wage.”
People and Planet are urging the University to “make a powerful statement that it will not do business with organisations which have such an atrocious human rights record and which clearly…lack respect for the most basic ethical standards.”
They call 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).”
They also urge 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.”
The letter has been signed by over 24 individuals on behalf of societies, as well as representatives of Durham Students’ Union or Colleges and by members of staff.
These include Alice Dee, the current Student’s Union President, Lisa Whiting, Academic Affairs Officer, Dr Sophie Ward, Lecturer in Education (Durham University) and Sarah Thin on behalf of Durham Young Greens.
Sarah Thin, a member of People and Planet, told Palatinate: “We’re writing to the VC because we don’t believe it’s acceptable for a University like Durham to be doing business and therefore financially supporting a company with such a horrific human rights record.
“This is an opportunity for Durham to show that it does not tolerate the abuse and exploitation of the vulnerable; to live up to its reputation as an upstanding and respectable educational institution.”
Photograph: Durham University