By Annie Fox
Working through shareholder activism, in partnership with investors and members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), Jesuits West has helped pass a shareholder resolution to hold GEO Group, one of the largest prison and detention center operators in the country, accountable for human rights and treatment of detainees. The resolution asks for a report regarding a shareholder resolution Jesuits West introduced and helped pass nine years ago, entitled the “Respect for Our Inmates and Detainees,” which was designed to enforce human rights compliance within GEO Group.
Bryan Pham, SJ
“We have held ongoing engagements with GEO around human rights concerns for seven years, said Bryan Pham, SJ, who spearheaded guiding the resolution for Jesuits West. “An increase in recent contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and disturbing reports related to detainee safety seem to have exacerbated GEO’s exposure to these human rights risks.” Pham explained that their shareholder coalition had been pleased to see GEO Group pass a human rights policy in 2013, but that the new resolution is aimed at gaining clearer transparency as to how that policy is being operationalized.
The resolution was supported by proxy advisors Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis and, ultimately the company withdrew its opposition to the proposal. Investors say they hope the requested report will catalyze increased due diligence on human rights at the company.
Shareholders filed the resolution as a result of alarming reports of potential human rights abuses at multiple GEO-owned and operated facilities, including an immigration detention center in Adelanto, California where the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General in October 2018 reported “serious issues relating to safety, detainee rights, and medical care”.
Inspectors found nooses made from twisted bed sheets in 15 of 20 cells inspected at the Adelanto center despite 1 suicide and 7 attempts at the facility last year. In addition, during their visit officials found that all 14 detainees in administrative segregation had been placed inappropriately.
“We are gratified that our request for further information on this issue was seen as a serious concern by fellow GEO shareholders”, said Pat Zerega of Mercy Investment Services who co-filed the resolution. “When we consider what is at stake in terms of inmate and detainee welfare as well as GEO’s reputation, it is imperative that they get this right. We look forward to continued, productive dialogue with the company that seeks meaningful solutions to both of these considerations.”