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

ActivismIsrael/Palestine

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

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