Campaign to reject Veolia contract in St. Louis heats up as company’s losses mount from BDS activism


A powerful BDS video produced by Rihab Charida and Aamer Rahman.

Adri Nieuwhof reports for Electronic Intifada that the BDS movement is taking a bite out of Veolia:

asked a number of people to read some lines for a video about boycotting Israel.
Brown Planet) asked a number of people to read some lines for a video about boycotting Israel. This included the known rappers
A few years ago friends Palestinian Rihab Charida and Aamer Rahman (from Fear of a Brown Planet) asked a number of people to read some lines for a video about boycotting Israel. This included the known rappers Lowkey and M1 of Dead Prez. I was happy to be involved. It’s been released today and will hopefully go global and viral:Powerful BDS video

In a recent presentation [PDF], Hege Sjo said that “disasters are expensive” for businesses, mentioning Veolia as an example of a company that has experienced “reputational damage as a result of publicity and pending litigation” due to “operations in troubled regions. Involvement in infrastructure project in the occupied territories.”

Sjo spoke at a 8 February seminar, organized by Norsif, a Norwegian association which promotes responsible and sustainable investment practices in the Norwegian financial industry.

Sjo underpinned her argument by mentioning Veolia’s alleged loss of a €3.5 billion ($4.6 billion) Swedish metro contracts in January 2009.

It is remarkable that the observation was made by a financial expert who operates in the higher circles of the investment world.

Sjo is a senior adviser to the principle manager of the largest pension fund in the the UK, Hermes Investment Management. She is also director of several publicly listed Norwegian companies. Sjo’s warning is a clear sign to companies that profiting from Israel’s occupation carries serious reputational and financial risks.

Financial watchdog BankTrack arrived at a similar conclusion in 2010 when it classified investments in Veolia as “dodgy” because the company provides public transport to the Israeli settlement in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. BankTrack is a global network which monitors the effect of operations of commercial banks, investors, insurance companies, pension funds on people and the planet.

Veolia’s role in violations of Palestinian rights was also addressed in a report [PDF] by the recent UN fact finding mission on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The mission clearly stated that private firms have enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements.

Veolia is also experiencing resistance here in the United States. Anna Baltzer writes in the St. Louis Beacon on the campaign to prevent the company from receiving a consultancy contract in St. Louis, Missouri:

In the occupied West Bank, Veolia is involved in servicing illegal Israeli settlements by operating a landfill, wastewater treatment plant, tramway, and buses on settlers-only roads, all on land stolen from Palestinian families who were violently and cruelly driven out. The Palestinian population is not allowed to use these roads or many of Veolia services because of their ethnicity and religion.

Our city struggles to overcome segregation and discrimination. Why would we hire a corporation profiting from segregation and discrimination elsewhere? St. Louis is not responsible for ending injustices in Israel/Palestine. But we are responsible for the choices we make about who we work with. 

Veolia’s notorious practices have lost the company billions of dollars in contracts worldwide. Even its hometown of Paris gave it the boot. In Indianapolis, which Veolia touted as a success story in its proposal to St. Louis, the company is entangled in two class-action lawsuits regarding overbilling. Following widespread controversy surrounding failure to fulfill promises, mismanagement, and sacrificing water quality for profit, the city eventually had to buy Veolia out of its contract at the hefty price of $29 million. 

The water system may need help. It does not need Veolia’s help. The system faces huge challenges. Firms here in Missouri can meet our needs. Veolia’s record indicates that its cost-cutting methods are unacceptable: reducing quality, raising rates, dodging environmental standards, and layoffs. We don’t need to pay $250,000 for that advice.

Last month, 50 environmentalists; workers; human rights activists; civil rights leaders; veterans; local business owners; students; members of St. Louis’s Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities; and others packed a meeting of the Board of Estimate & Apportionment, which considers contracts. Many lined the halls to Slay’s office to show opposition to Veolia. There was no public support for Veolia.

We are seeing a rare manifestation of people confronting power, the 99 percent vs. corporate misdeeds. It’s beautiful. The question is, on which side will our elected officials stand?

We may soon find out. Residents will return to City Hall for the next meeting Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. to say to our officials: Let’s keep our city, water, and conscience clean. Let’s dump Veolia.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

Other posts by .

Posted In:

One Response

  1. MRW
    February 20, 2013, 9:53 am

    Good for Anna Baltzer.

    Most Americans think their city water is a safe public resource. It’s not. Watch Blue Gold: World Water News, if you have the time. It’s on Netflix, and used to be findable on youtube. The last 1/4 of the film lists the US cities whose water is controlled by transnationals like Veolia or Thames. These companies come in, fire the workers who know how to maintain the system, then fail to do necessary maintenance unless they can raise rates.

    Other companies, like Nestle’s and whoever owns Perrier, buy the water rights of cities or small towns located over good aquifers, then drain the aquifer to create bottled water that leaves the state and country.

    Don’t forget that last September NASA’s Earth Observatory rushed to show results from its new GRACE satellites in determining the source of the drought everyone was blaming on the atmosphere or weather.

    A deep and persistent drought struck vast portions of the continental United States in 2012. Though there has been some relief in the late summer, a pair of satellites operated by NASA shows that the drought lingers in the underground water supplies that are often tapped for drinking water and farming.

    The maps above combine data from the twin satellites of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) with other satellite and ground-based measurements to model the relative amount of water stored near the surface and underground as of September 17, 2012. The top map shows moisture content in the top 2 centimeters (0.8 inches) of surface soil; the middle map depicts moisture in the “root zone,” or the top meter (39 inches) of soil; and the third map shows groundwater in aquifers.

    No one knows this draining of the aquifers for profit is going on. They think it’s nature taking its toll. What these guys are doing is criminal, in my view.

    Literally the week after sponsoring the 4th World Wilderness Congress (WWC) in Denver in Sept. 1987, Maurice Strong (the UNEP guy who created the IPCC; he’s Mr. Climate Change) and investors like Sam Belzberg, William Ruckleshaus (yeah, the EPA admin) and former CO Gov Richard Lamm tried to buy all the water rights under Strong’s massive ranch in the San Luis Valley in Colorado. Strong had bought the land from Adnan Khashoggi, but didn’t have all the water rights. First these fools told the state they were brewing beer. Then they fessed up. They wanted to drain 200,000 acre feet of water annually from the San Luis Valley and sell it to the city of Denver for $7000/acre ft. That’s $1.4 billion/year.

    This would have impoverished the farmers and ranchers in the valley, financially (because they would have to pay Strong for water) and draining that much water would have caused their land to become a desert. To give you an idea of the amount of water they wanted to steal, the state of Nevada gets 400,000 acre feet per year from the Colorado River, so half that. A whistleblower from the WWC meeting alerted the farmers and ranchers. It took them years to win, but they did.

Leave a Reply