Dating back to 2009, this is a summary of Veolia involvements in Palestine at the time (by Corporate Watch). The situation has changed since then, but this is a good starting point to understand why the campaign against Veolia started:
Veolia Environnement is a French multinational that trades in water and waste management, energy and transport services. 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 (due to be completed in 2020), 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.
Through its subsidiary Veolia Environmental Services Israel (which has bought TMM Integrated Recycling Services), Veolia also owns and operates the Tovlan Landfill in the occupied Jordan Valley, using captured Palestinian natural and land resources for the needs of Israeli settlements. Other subsidiaries include Connex Transportation Israel, Veolia Environmental Services Israel, TMM Integrated Recycling Industries, Veolia Transportation Israel, Connex Jerusalem, Veolia Water Services Israel. Veolia also holds a number of contracts for recycling and waste management across Europe. Veolia UK’s head office is London (154 Pentonville Road, N1 9PE). For more information, see here).
Earlier this month, Veolia lost a ?3.5m contract in Sweden over its involvement with the Jerusalem light rail project (see here). In 2006, Dutch bank ASN also broke off financial relations with Veolia for the same reason, as did the Irish tram drivers union broke. In November 2008, a group of Palestinian, Israeli and international activists demonstrated in front of Bilbao City Hall in protest against the council’s plans to award Veolia a contract for the cities bus transportation.
An updated situation, with a broader history of the boycott campaign, is given by a recent article published on the Electronic Intifada (see below). In essence, Veolia, at least partly as a result of international condemnation and boycott pressure, has pulled out of most of its business involvements in Palestine, except for the Jerusalem Light Rail.
Palestinian campaigners have chalked up an important win as the French municipal services conglomerate Veolia has sold off most of its businesses linked to the Israeli occupation in the West Bank.
The company reported that it sold its “water, waste and energy activities in Israel” to Los Angeles-based private equity firm Oaktree Capital Management.
But Veolia remains involved in one major colonization project: the Jerusalem Light Rail.
Route of the Jerusalem Light Railway in relation to the Green Line, showing stops
Under boycott pressure
The company has been a principal target of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for several years.
“Grassroots BDS activism across the world made it very difficult for Veolia to win public contracts in some parts of Europe, the US and the Middle East, leaving the company no choice but to significantly scale back its involvement in illegal Israeli projects,” Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), said in a statement.
“Around 10 authorities in Ireland and the UK introduced official policy barring Veolia from public contracts,” the BNC statement notes. “Councils in at least 25 cities including London, Stockholm and Boston opted not to award or renew contracts with Veolia following public campaigns that were backed by local community leaders, churches, trade unions and mainstream political parties.”
Various pension and investment funds have also divested from Veolia over its role in Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
A Veolia official has admitted that the global campaign has “lost us important contracts.”
The boycott Veolia campaign was launched in Bilbao, the Basque Country, in November 2008, to pressure the company to end its involvement in illegal Israeli projects that serve settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, the BNC notes.
Veolia, which profits from the privatization of public services, has also been the target of actions over its labor and environmental practices.
But, says the BNC, “Veolia continues to remain involved in the illegal Jerusalem Light Rail that links Israeli colonies to west Jerusalem through its holdings in Veolia Transdev.”
The company has however announced its intention to sell its holding in the railway. Nonetheless, the BNC’s Nawajaa said that the campaign against Veolia would continue.
“The sole purpose of the Jerusalem Light Rail is to increase the appeal and facilitate the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements through the theft of Palestinian land,” Najawaa said. “We will continue to boycott Veolia until it ends its participation in the Light Rail project and pays reparations to those Palestinian communities impacted by its support for Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land.”
“International corporations cannot simply profit from Israel’s war crimes and then leave when the going gets tough, without being held accountable,” Nawajaa added.
As The Electronic Intifada has reported, the Jerusalem Light Rail has colluded directly with Israeli occupation forces in the detention of Palestinian children.
Still, Veolia’s retreat from Israel and its colonies is powerful evidence that even the most well-financed and well-connected international corporations cannot remain immune to sustained grassroots pressure.