According to an African adage, "to travel is to see." While I had heard about the awful working conditions and treatment of security guards in countries such as South Africa, Malawi and Mozambique, seeing the injustice and poverty workers face at the hands of Group 4 Securicor was more compelling than I had imagined.
I visited Africa as part of a delegation of human rights activists and union leaders to investigate Group 4's treatment of workers on the continent. The company is one of the largest multinational employers in Africa -- bigger than Coca-Cola -- and it employs nearly 65,000 employees in 18 nations.
Manuel Cossa is a former guard at the U.S. Embassy in Mozambique. He and 300 other workers were laid off by G4S without receiving notice or the legally-required severance payment to tide his family over financially until he found other work. He lives on the outskirts of the capital city in a three-room house with no electricity or running water, and must now rely on piecemeal work to support his six children. A proud man who does not want a handout, Manuel only wants to be paid for his hard work and to improve the harsh environment G4S guards encounter every day.
My visit to Africa also showed that workers like Manuel are fighting for what all workers need: to be treated with dignity and respect, and to have a chance at providing a better future for their children. While G4S is a powerful, global corporation with the power to improve the lives of workers and the continent, the company has instead chosen to relegate both to poverty.
Though I left African soil several days ago, I remain inspired by the courage of the G4S guards whose material wealth will never compare to that of their employer, yet -- together with broad international support -- are standing up against the corporation's arrogance and disregard for their work. They are proof of another African proverb: "unity is strength, division is weakness."