A national awards scheme promoting diversity and social cohesion are conducting an internal investigation into one of their own sponsors, following enquiries by Mancunian Matters last week.
MM contacted The National Diversity Awards (NDA) – to be hosted at Manchester’s Midland Hotel – when it discovered one of their supporters was the controversial private prisons management company Geo Group UK.
The GEO Group UK Ltd is a provider of immigrations centres to the government that have been dogged by reports of suicides, riots and escapes at their institutions.
Allegations aimed at the firm include replacing staff who were made redundant with inmates paid just £1 an hour, and the detainment of children and infants in one Scottish centre.
NDA’s chief executive Paul Sesay said: “I do hear your concerns with regards to them being a supporter.
“But the awards are not about politics, we try not to get involved with too much of the politics really.”
GEO UK are a wholly owned subsidiary of the multinational GEO Group Inc, who were investigated by the US Department of Justice for human rights abuses and negligence in 2010.
The firm are listed as a sponsor on various sections of the NDA's website, yet elsewhere referred to as a 'supporter'. The NDA were unable to clarify the difference between the two.
ON BOARD: An image from the NDA's website shows their 'sponsors', including GEO UK
Mr Sesay said: “Obviously it’s important that the sponsors are seen to be doing diversity within their organisations, and if they’ve not got a record coherent with that then it could be an issue.
“At the same time, I don’t want to take away from the response the National Diversity Awards has had.
“It’s really needed in this day and age, where people across the UK don’t have the opportunities they should have.
“So if GEO Group and other organisations like that want to try and employ a diverse work force and try and change the error of their ways, then obviously everybody deserves a second chance.”
In 2009, Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, a GEO UK facility, made redundant up to 20 full-time kitchen staff earning minimum wage, and replaced them with detainees who were paid £1 an hour.
At the time, one of the centre’s staff told The Sun: “Apart from the sackings, it is wrong to use the inmates as virtual slave labour.”
GEO UK also manage the Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in Lanarkshire that provoked an outcry in 2010 when it was reported that children and infants were being detained there.
When GEO took over Dungavel, Chris Dempster, of campaign group Unity, said: “Giving the contract to an organisation with such a deplorable track record is further evidence of how little the government cares about the welfare of immigration detainees.”
Nick Clegg pledged that children would no longer be ‘locked up at places like Dungavel’, but this February, the Sunday Express reported that 17-year-olds were still being housed in the facility.
Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, described the practice as a stain on Scotland’s reputation.
Bill MacKeith, of campaign group Barbed Wire Britain, said: “I’m shocked to hear that GEO UK is sponsoring an event celebrating diversity.
“We know them as an organisation which makes a profit from locking up innocent people, most of whom are black.
“I would hope that the organisers of the event would consider doing without GEO sponsorship.”
An NDA spokesman said that they will run an internal investigation into GEO UK Group’s support of the awards.
North Dorset District Council has sponsored the awards for seven years.
In their most recent Equalities Impact Assessment (EIA) performed in 2009, diverse groups were asked how ‘functions, policies and processes’ affect their communities.
No LGBT groups were consulted for the assessment, and only Christian faiths were consulted for their religious quota.
A spokeswoman for the council told MM: “I’m not making excuses, but we are a very rural, traditionally conservative community.
“It is one of the areas where we need to be a little more mature, and perhaps a little more risky.
“We live and breathe what we say, and we have taken this sponsorship to try and improve Dorset’s reputation.”
With regards to the council, Mr Sesay said: “It is a glaring omission for them to have left sexual orientation out of their assessment, but if they are trying to address that issue, that can only be good news.
“We’ve dealt with them on a number of issues and can clarify that they do support diversity, on levels that we know about anyway.”