Monday, August 08, 2011

Veolia in trouble with protesters and investers

DAYS after failing to win a contract with Ealing council in west London, the French waste and water company Veolia announced last week that it would scale back its operations in several countries after a surprising first-half net loss of €67.2 million.

The company's difficulties are being greeted as heartening news by campaigners working for a boycott of firms that profit from the Israeli occupation and settlement regime in the occupied Palestinian territories. Veolia has been among companies singled out by Palestinian civil society organisations asking for solidarity in the form of a boycott.

With headquarters in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, and shares quoted in Paris and New York, Veolia Environment SA is one of the main international companies to have grown by spreading into what were previously public service areas in many countries. It is involved in water supply and management, waste disposal, public transport, and energy. In 2009 it employed around 300,000 employees in 74 countries.

Among its subsidiaries, Connex lost rail service contracts in both Australia (Melbourne) and Britain. It had been due to run services in London and the South East until this year, but in June 2003 the Strategic Rail Authority decided to cut the South Eastern franchise short, citing poor financial management and "a serious loss of confidence... in the ability of the company to run the business in its widest sense".

The objection to Veolia's partnership in the Jerusalem Light Rail project is another matter. This system links West Jerusalem to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, bypassing Palestinian villages and furthering the annexation of East Jerusalem. Veolia also operates bus services in the West Bank which run on the settlers-only roads, a refinement on South African-style apartheid. By helping the occupiers to divide the West Bank and enfold what should be the Palestinian capital, the French company is helping obstruct any progress to peace via a Palestinian state.

Dumping on the Occupied Territory

In May this year the Israeli Human Rights organisation B'Tselem published a detailed report on how the Israeli authorities and companies which work with them use - and abuse - land and resources in just part of the occupied West Bank, the Jordan valley and northern Dead Sea region, which successive Israeli governments and the Army appear intent on holding on to regardless of any peace agreements.

Besides mentioning the Israeli company Ahava products, the report has a section on waste.

"The environmental-nuisance disposal sites Israel built in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area are primarily intended to serve Israeli governmental authorities – the city of Jerusalem, the settlements in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea, and settlements elsewhere in the West Bank. Establishing the sites in the Jordan Valley enables the disposal to take place far from the territory of the Israeli authorities, saves valuable space for the Israeli governmental authorities, and reduces costs for transporting and handling the material at the disposal sites inside Israel. For many years, Israel has not invested meaningful sums in the sites in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area. Had it done so, they would be operating in accordance with the relevant regulations and standards applying inside Israel, thus preventing environmental pollution.


North of the Yafit settlement, next to Tirza Reservoir, the Samaria Towns Environmental Association operates the Tovlan waste-disposal site. Alongside it is a fertilizer manufacturing operation that uses the waste from the Tovlan site. The Tovlan site has been operated since the 1990s as a private business, without a plan approved by the regional council, and without infrastructure to prevent ground pollution and emission of greenhouse gases, or a plan to rehabilitate it. In 2004, the Towns Association upgraded and enlarged the facility to give it a “national dimension,” with a capacity of a thousand tons of refuse a day.

Currently, the site is used only by Israeli settlements. In addition to settlements in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, large settlements such as Ari’el and the Barkan industrial area also use the site. The site is operated by a subsidiary of a French corporation Veolia, T.M.M. Integrated Recycling Industries, that pays royalties to the Jordan Valley Regional CouncilDispossession and Exploitation : Israel's Policy in the Jordan Valley and Northern Dead Sea, B'tselem, May 2011

Veolia's involvement in the Jerusalem Ligh Railway (along with that of Alstom engineers) led to opposition ranging from Irish transport staff refusing to train Israeli recruits for the project to Dutch institutional investors withdrawing funds. A legal case in France had less success. And Veolia has profitable contracts in both Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In London, Palestine solidarity campaigners are lobbying against major waste contracts going to the French firm. They drew some satisfaction in April when the ((April 7) reported "The £1bn battle to deal with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of South West London’s household rubbish has come down to its final two bidders.Viridor and the Waste Recycling Group will now go head-to-head to persuade Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston they have the best solution for 200,000 tonnes of waste produced in the boroughs each year.The four boroughs, which form the South London Waste Partnership(SLWP), hope to announce the winning bid early next year".

Evidently Veolia was out of the running. Ben Soffa, Secretary of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: ‘Local activists and PSC branches organised a really vocal campaign to oppose awarding this contract to a company that is complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation. This is just the latest in a series of setbacks for Veolia, which has failed to win a string of other public contracts in France, England, Wales, Ireland and Australia, at a cost totalling billions of Euros".

Then on Wednesday Ealing council failed to select Veolia for a comprehensive tender for its domestic refuse, street cleaning and parks maintenance contract. Veolia had been given the previous parks maintenance contract. Activists had written to and met with councillors, detailing Veolia’s involvement in the illegal Israeli occupation. The contract would have been worth approximately £300 million over 15 years – one of Ealing Council’s largest single contracts.

Sarah Colborne, Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) Director, said in a press release: “Veolia’s loss of this contract, following its failure in a number of significant bids in Britain and internationally, is a clear sign that Veolia is paying a high price for its complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of international law.”

The company's fortunes may be running into other kinds of trouble. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Veolia “announced a corporate overhaul of the company that includes divestitures and a significant geographic scale-back”. They also reported Veolia’s disclosure of 2007-2010 accounting fraud in the US, amounting to €90 million. Company officials are reported to have said the scale-down is related to “financial difficulties encountered by Veolia’s customers”.

Meanwhile in West London ...

Environmental campaigners in Brent, north-west London, are concerned about Veolia's existing contract with the council and fear expansion to link with other boroughs could mean waste from better-off boroughs being brought in for dumping or incineration. Veolia already has a waste depot in Alperton and is proposing sites there and in Park Royal as it touts for the new West London Waste Authority contract.

Meanwhile, in a message to campaigners the secretary of a local group says:
"We may not know the precise reason that Veolia was not selected for the bid, but the systematic lobbying by members and supporters in Ealing of councillors, council officials and the provision of detailed legal and factual analysis of Veolia's grave misconduct in the West Bank and Jerusalem certainly forced the issue into the Council's deliberations. We should therefore rightly see this as a campaign success; and thank you to everyone who was involved in this.

"We now need to put our focus on the next campaign against Veolia. Six London boroughs – Ealing, Hounslow, Hillingdon, Richmond, Harrow and Brent – have combined to form the West London Waste Authority (WLWA). The WLWA is in the process of asking companies to tender for an approx. £ 485 million residual domestic waste contract. We know that Veolia has made it onto the shortlist for this contract. Our job is to put real pressure on the WLWA to kick Veolia out of the process. Now we need as many residents of the six boroughs as possible to sign the letter which we will send to the WLWA to show the amount of opposition there is to Veolia’s bid".

For copy of letter being sent see:

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