A Kingston graduate who is boss of one of the UK’s biggest firms has hit back at claims her company “victimised trade unions” and is responsible for unethical practices at immigration removal centres.
Kingston University alumni Ruby McGregor-Smith, chief executive of outsourcing company Mitie, denied allegations made by critics after she was invited to speak at the university.
The allegations against Mitie include that a 16-year-old boy was illegally detained at the Campsfield immigrant removal centre in Oxfordshire and accusations that some of the firm’s workers are being mistreated and bullied to stop them from joining a union.
Critics at the university have also voiced concerns that the firm was being “held up as a positive example” for KU students and staff and have called for Mitie’s employees to be represented at McGregor-Smith’s lecture on March 12 at Kingston Hill.
Angry McGregor-Smith, who is paid more than £1.2m-a-year, said: “The allegations are blatant lies. There are absolutely no ethical concerns regarding my company and its practice.”
Addressing the union claims by the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), she added: “I find it hurtful that an organisation which has no proof against my company, can make such claims.”
McGregor-Smith, who is the first Asian female chief executive at a FTSE 250 company and was voted one of the 100 most powerful women in Britain by the BBC in 2013, has been invited by Kingston University Business School as a part of their “Strategy into Practice” lecture series.
McGregor-Smith said: “I have always supported the university and I am giving up my free time to speak about woman in business and how to better the British economy.”
In regards to the accusations surrounding the immigration detention centres, McGregor-Smith also denied Mitie was responsible in these cases. She said: “All allegations must go through the Home Office, who is responsible for our contracts with the immigrant removal centres.”
Andrew Higginbottom, associate professor of international relations and politics, said: “Mitie’s record as an ethical employer is disastrous. It’s possibly one of the worst examples of the unacceptable face of capitalism. Certainly, there should be space at the lecture for an alternative view of Mitie’s practices to be heard.”
Higginbottom voiced his concerns that as a university, Kingston should not be “a rubber stamp for corporations,” but has encouraged his students to go to the lecture and hear McGregor-Smith speak.
“I was asked to inform my students of this event, which I’ve done. I have also informed my students of some of the critical sources where people can read about Mitie and their record.
“There has to be space at Kingston University for a diversity of views about what is happening in the corporate world today.”
Higginbottom is awaiting a reply on whether or not critics will have the chance to speak at McGregor-Smith’s lecture, but said opponents would reconsider their options if such an opportunity was refused.
Mitie have been under scrutiny from trade union IWGB which has represented employees of Mitie on several occasions. Earlier this month cleaners and porters employed by the firm at the Royal Opera House went on strike.
Chair of the Cleaners and Facilities branch at IWGB Marlene Jimenez said: “Cleaners and Porters of the ROH who participated in the strike made use of their rights. Mitie are still victimising and punishing them, trying to make workers afraid of making use of their rights.”
The IWGB has now asked to be represented at McGregor-Smiths lecture.
General secretary of the IWGB Alberto Durango said: “IWGB would like the right of reply to Ruby McGregor-Smith, as Mitie has been involved in many cases of infringing the rights of its workforce, especially cleaners and porters around London.”
Mitie, which stands for Management Incentive through Investment Equity, acquired an eight-year £180million contract 2014 with the Home Office to provide custodial services at Colnbrook and Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centres near Heathrow.
The company also manages and maintains Campsfield Immigrant Removal Centre where a surprise inspection by the Home Office claimed that a boy had been held for 62 days before an assessment by social services concluded the boy was only 16-years-old in between 2012 and 2013.
The report also revealed that the centre was overcrowded with “four people sharing accommodation designed for two,” as well as raising questions about overcrowding and hygiene at the centre. However, the Home Office regarded the inspection to be an “overall very positive inspection”.
A university spokeswoman said: “Ruby McGregor-Smith is due to visit Kingston University to deliver a lecture as part of the Strategy into Practice seminar series run by Kingston Business School. Ms McGregor-Smith’s lecture is titled ‘Strategic Challenges for the Outsourcing Industry’ and, along with other series speakers, her session will focus on strategic challenges in industry and the way companies grow and develop to succeed in the commercial world.
“As a leading businesswoman, Ms McGregor Smith has been invited to speak at the University to share her insight into the challenges faced by outsourcing companies and how to overcome these and compete successfully in the industry.
“As a centre of learning and education the University is fully committed to protecting freedom of speech, within the law, and to stimulating academic debate. We respect the rights of individuals and groups to hold their own views and values, but will not tolerate these to be presented in a way that intimidates, degrades or is hostile to others.”