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Why Boycott Veolia?

Boycott Divestment Sanctions

Saturday 12 جمادى الآخرة 1430

All the versions of this article:

  • English

The Veolia parent company is Veolia Environnement, a French multinational. Veolia Transport, a subsidiary of Veolia Environnement, is a leading partner in the CityPass consortium, contracted to build a light rail tramway system linking west Jerusalem to illegal Jewish settlements such as Pisgat Ze’ev, French Hill, Neve Ya’akov and Gilo in occupied east Jerusalem. Once built, the rail system will help to cement Israel’s hold on occupied east Jerusalem and tie the settlements even more firmly into the State of Israel. And not only the settlements in east Jerusalem: the project states that the “Ammunition Hill” station of the network will operate as the feeder station for settler traffic from Ma’aleh Adumim, a large Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and from Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley.

The complete system is due for completion in 2020, with Veolia responsible for the operation. The first line will open in 2010. With its involvement in this project, the company is directly implicated in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and is playing a key role in Israel’s attempt to make its annexation of the Palestinian territory of east Jerusalem irreversible. As a willing agent of these policies, Veolia is undermining any chance of a just peace for the Palestinian people.

Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the annexation of East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. Numerous UN resolutions and the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the wall have confirmed this. The settlements violate Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention, which provides that:: “...The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” as well as Article 53, which forbids destruction of property. These violations in some cases in east Jerusalem amount to war crimes, i.e. “grave breaches” of the Convention, (see Articles 146 and 147), as they involve appropriation of Palestinian property not justified by military necessity. These grave breaches are being facilitated by Veolia’s participation in the construction and future operation of the tramway serving the settlements.

In November 2006, ASN, a Dutch bank, broke off financial relations with Veolia on account of the light rail contract. Veolia also runs Luas, Dublin’s light rail system, but has been forced by Trade Union pressure in Ireland to cancel a proposed deal to train drivers and engineers for the Jerusalem light rail. In 2007 AFPS, a French NGO, and the PLO, started court cases in France against Veolia Transport and Alstom, another CityPass partner, to get their contract for the tramway invalidated on the grounds that its aim breached the French Civil Code as being in contradiction with public order and good morals (see http://electronicintafada.net/v2/article9104.shtml).

Meanwhile, Veolia Environmental Services runs waste collection and recycling for several local authorities in the UK and so provides a local target for appropriate action. It is clear from the parent company’s annual reports and website that the company is one coherent whole and so the misconduct of one division is the misconduct of Veolia as a whole and all divisions and subsidiaries are implicated. Veolia Water and Veolia Transport are also UK subsidiaries.
Action so far

Lambeth and Camden PSC branches have asked their borough councils not to sign or maintain contracts with Veolia, but have up to now been unable to counter the argument that to simply boycott or blacklist Veolia would be illegal. Portsmouth Network Veolia Campaign supporters have met the same response from Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton councils, who also refused to ask Veolia to pull out of the tramway project. Portsmouth Network was unsuccessful in getting the local press print letters about the issue.

Portsmouth campaigners have written to the CEO of Veolia Environmental Services UK (no reply) and also John Gummer, Chairman of Veolia Water UK, and a Conservative politician. Gummer replied, concluding “Veolia Environnement will continue to look closely at the issues surrounding this matter”. Campaigners have also urged managers of ethical funds to avoid investing in Veolia, and local shops to switch their rubbish collection contracts from Veolia to another supplier.
Important Recent Developments

A lawyer from Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR) has overseen significant research that makes a strong legal case for local authorities excluding Veolia Environmental Services from bidding for local authority contracts. This will enable campaigners to challenge local authorities with compelling arguments based on the current law, primarily the Public Contracts Regulations 2006.

The main points of the legal argument are:

* The Veolia Group is one commercial entity, so any part of it is implicated in the misconduct of any other part.
* Under the Public Contract Regulations 2006 a company may be excluded from bidding if it has “committed an act of grave misconduct in the course of its business”.
* Through Veolia Transport’s participation in the CityPass consortium project, the whole Veolia Group, including its subsidiary Veolia Environmental Services, is implicated in facilitating Israel’s violation of Articles 49 and 53 of the 4th Geneva Convention. These violations in some cases in east Jerusalem amount to grave breaches of the Convention (i.e. war crimes).
* The UK’s Office of Government Commerce cites examples of grave misconduct sufficient to exclude companies from contracts, including transgressions relating to labour rights, health and safety, and the environment. Facilitating serious and far-reaching breaches of international law, including war crimes, is at least as serious misconduct as the examples cited.
* Veolia also violates international standards specifically established for business:
* The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (2000) state that enterprises should “Respect the human rights of those affected by their activities consistent with the host government’s international obligations and commitments”. The Palestinians’ land is illegally taken to build the tramway and they have to endure illegal settlements planted in their midst.
* The UN Global Compact (2000), of which Veolia is a member, states that businesses should support and respect the protection of international human rights within their spheres of influence, and make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

Violation of these international standards also amount to grave misconduct. (The conduct does not have to be illegal, let alone criminal, to be grave).

It is hoped that a legal challenge will soon be mounted to stop a local authority renewing its contract with Veolia.

Once the Solicitor’s initial letter has been drafted it will be made available to campaigners so they can adapt it for use to challenge local authorities themselves. Councils without contracts with Veolia could be asked to exclude them from any future bidding; those with contracts due for renewal in the next year or two could be asked not to renew them; and those with long term contracts might even be asked to terminate them.

If they do not give a satisfactory response, legal action could be the next move. Irrespective of the outcome, legal action itself will be a significant opportunity for creating greater public awareness of Israel’s violations of international law.

French Court to Hear Israeli Tram Case - April 2009

Palestinian lobby groups that contest Israel’s authority over East Jerusalem have found they might be helped via an unexpected route: a French court.

The court decided to take up the case against French companies contracted by Israel to build a tram line that runs deep into East Jerusalem from West Jerusalem.

A Franco-Palestinian human-rights association challenged the companies’ participation, arguing that the line is designed to consolidate Israeli control over Arab districts seized after the Six-Day War in 1967. Most Israelis regard East Jerusalem as part of Israel’s undivided capital.

The group, Association France-Palestine Solidarité, filed the complaint against Alstom SA and Veolia Environnement SA two years ago, arguing that the 8.3-mile project violates international law because East Jerusalem isn’t sovereign Israeli territory. About half of the line is already built.

Veolia and Alstom quickly responded to the complaint by saying that the Nanterre court had no jurisdiction over the case and that the association’s claims were groundless.

An official of the tribunal of Nanterre near Paris said the court ruled late Wednesday that it does have jurisdiction in the case. The tribunal, however, rejected on technical grounds a request by the Palestine Liberation Organization to be a co-plaintiff, the court official said. PLO representatives didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Now the court will start looking into the substance of the complaint unless Alstom and Veolia exercise their right to appeal within one month. The companies both said they had been notified of the ruling, and an Alstom spokesman added the company will take time to study the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

"The tribunal has backed our arguments; it’s a positive step," said the association’s secretary-general, Sylviane de Wangen.

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