St. Louis dumps Veolia

photo Suhad Khatib

Dump Veolia activists protest at City Hall, St. Louis Missouri  (Photo Suhad Khatib)

winning1-1

This story has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. A bunch of average ordinary Americans who formed a coalition of social-justice and environmental activism, including civil rights leaders, workers and students, in a large midwestern city, just scored a massive victory over the takeover of their water department and the privatization of their resources by an international corporate behemoth deeply embedded in human rights violations.

Huge BDS win, and massive victory for the people of St. Louis, Missouri.  St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (STL-PSC):

In a dramatic conclusion to nearly one year of effort and vigilance by the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) and coalition partners, the St. Louis mayor’s office announced on October 29, 2013 that Veolia Water North America was withdrawing itself from consideration for a contract to consult with the St. Louis Water Division.  Veolia is a major, global target of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement because of its complicity in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. Veolia profits from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank by providing services, such as trash collection, water services and, until recently, bus lines, to illegal Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land.

When the contract came to light, the PSC helped form a local coalition to “Dump Veolia.”   The Coalition included a wide spectrum of the St. Louis community, as well as national organizations.  The broad based opposition caused Veolia to withdraw from our city, reportedly deciding St. Louis “is not worth it. It is not worth the damage to [Veolia’s] business.”

The St. Louis Dump Veolia campaign shows the effectiveness of local BDS campaigns.   The efforts against the Veolia contract brought Palestine to the St. Louis mayoral campaign last spring as the two leading candidates — the incumbent, Mayor Francis Slay, and his challenger and the head of the Board of Alderman (St. Louis’ equivalent to a city council), Lewis Reed — staked out opposite sides in the Veolia debate.  Mayor Slay, a proponent of the Veolia contract, was forced to admit in a press release in February that Palestinians find Veolia’s involvement with Israel’s occupation objectionable.

The issue of the proposed Veolia water contract was the top requested question at the second mayoral debate. St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Beacon covered the issue as part of their debate coverage. Palestine activists bird-dogged Mayor Slay during a fundraising event demanding answers on why he supported human rights violations in Palestine through his advocacy for Veolia.  Anti-Veolia flyers sponsored by candidate Reed and his supporters in the St. Louis Carpenters’ Union were mailed to every household in St. Louis during the campaign. Global Water Intelligence credited BDS in St. Louis with thwarting Veolia’s ambitions for securing public sector work in the United States.  

While Mayor Slay handily won the mayoral election, the Dump Veolia campaign put his office and Veolia on the defensive and forced both to expend considerable political clout and resources.  In June, a public hearing on the Veolia contract was called by the Board of Alderman Public Utilities Committee. Over two sessions, the hearing lasted six hours.  At the second session, well over 150 concerned citizens attended to voice their opposition to the proposed contract. The only testimonies in support of the contract were from either Veolia representatives or others who would directly benefit as a subcontractor from the proposed deal. The only pro-Israel opposition to our efforts came in the form of a statement from the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council that did not support Veolia — a seemingly untenable position — but asked the City to not factor BDS demands into their decision-making process.

At the hearing, several PSC members made statements focusing on Veolia’s operation of bus lines on segregated roads in the West Bank, drawing comparisons to St. Louis’ racist practices and to the Board of Aldermen’s strong stance against Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. Veolia representatives were flustered by the testimony about the segregated buses and attempted to deny the allegations. However, PSC testimony had been heard, and it was members of the Board of Aldermen who refuted the Veolia spokesperson’s inadequate defense.  In September, Veolia Transdev sold off all bus lines operating in Palestine/Israel, showing the power of BDS.

For more than three years, Veolia attempted to secure a contract with St. Louis, defying the will of the local community through aggressive lobbying, bullying, political interference, back-door deals, and outright contempt for democratic involvement. When public opposition denied Veolia the necessary votes to pass the contract through normal channels, the mayor attempted to circumvent the democratic checks and balances by claiming the contract did not need approval through traditional means and threatened to sue the city comptroller if she did not sign it.

However, public outrage overwhelmed the St. Louis Board of Aldermen who introduced a resolution to remove funds allocated for Veolia in the city’s budget — the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, prompting Veolia to withdraw. The proposed Board Bill 216 may be the first city resolution in North America targeting Veolia in response to a BDS campaign.

As the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee celebrates this victory over occupation profiteer Veolia, we wish to thank the many coalition partners and St. Louis citizens who supported the Dump Veolia campaign. While we came to this issue because of Palestine, we soon learned of the many troubling aspects of Veolia’s business practices including privatization of public resources, labor abuses, corruption, environmental degradation and interference in democratic processes.  This is a huge win for BDS in North America and a triumph for the people of St. Louis.

xxx

St. Louisans passionate about the environment and rights line corridor to protest Veolia, St. Louis Missouri City Hall January 16.2013

Check out Dump Veolia’s timeline of campaign events and In the News, Dump Veolia’s list of media coverage. Notice how one astute local investigative journalist played a role.  From their website:

On December 3, 2012, nobody but a small group of St. Louis insiders knew anything about the proposed St. Louis water consultancy contract with Veolia Water North America. On December 4, the story broke in the Riverfront Times following a leak from a water department worker. Thanks to the journalistic diligence of reporter Jessica Lussenhop and massive mobilization efforts by St. Louisans passionate about the environment and rights, the contract and campaign to stop it went on to capture headlines and garner significant media attention locally as well as some coverage nationally and internationally. 

A true success story.

xxxx

St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, St. Louis Missouri City Hall January 16.2013

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
Posted in Israel/Palestine | Tagged

{ 22 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. just says:

    Thank you to all of the wonderful and caring humans who fought for justice and won an important victory!

    Yea! for the good people of St. Louis– your water is more pure today because of your actions! Skål, Cheers, Sláinte, Fisehatak, Ba’sal’a'ma’ti !

  2. Krauss says:

    Amazing.

    I do find it slightly hilarious how Zionists in general who have been truly desperate to paint BDS as a powerless movement are increasingly made fun of by events like this.

    One of the biggest co-ops in Britain recently went the same route. You have the annual methodist church resolution, too. You know it’ll come back next year and the Israel lobby will do, well, lobbying against it. Each year the margin is thinner and thinner.

    The Asian-American Studies Association is already doing educational boycotting. That’s a very major organization. The movement is gathering steam, day by day, month by month.

  3. mikeo says:

    Nice one St Louis!

    Greetings from Hackney where we fought the same fight and won too.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Cliff says:

    Amazing victory due to amazing people. Thank you guys.

  5. bintbiba says:

    Suhhitkum , salud, l’chaim !!!….

    Love your style, Just.
    Thank you for your ever present support.

  6. ritzl says:

    Fantastic. Bit by bit! Way to go STL-PSC.

  7. Veolia is a French Company; Saint Louis was founded by the French and is named after Louis IX, King of France; Furthermore, as it happens, the architecture of the Saint Louis City Hall, including the staircase pictured above is modeled on the Hotel de Ville in Paris.

    Liberté, égalité, fraternité!

  8. MRW says:

    Veolia is Rothschild.

  9. Blownaway says:

    I just found out Veolia owns super shuttle airport an service…. Make your choices wisely

  10. RoHa says:

    “This story has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. A bunch of average ordinary Americans who formed a coalition of social-justice and environmental activism, including civil rights leaders, workers and students, in a large midwestern city, just scored a massive victory over the takeover of their water department and the privatization of their resources by an international corporate behemoth deeply embedded in human rights violations.”

    Wow! I’m all agog! Any guesses as to when Hollywood will make the film?

  11. Mike_Konrad says:

    I have no idea how this will help anything.

  12. Walid says:

    Annie, It’s a good win for BDS, I’m a fan of BDS as you know, but it shouldn’t be receiving the lion’s share of the credit for what happened in St Louis as it was but one of several opponents to Veolia. Part of the fight came from the anti- privatization group because of the job loses would have ensued and another from an ecologists group fighting Veolia because of its proven track record for polluting. Even Anheuser-Busch was in on the fight because Veolia would have increased its water costs. BDS joining the battle surely helped to defeat it, but it was not the major reason behind Veolia walking away from the confrontation. As to the management of the water in St Louis, I’m reading that it’s actually in need of serious management because it’s deteriorating. It’s a pain having to admit that the Veolia people are the pros in the water and wastes management (Suez SA is another). But their expertise comes with a heavy price especially to Palestinians because of Veolia’s collaborating with the occupier.

    It’s a bigger pain to see these little victories for BDS counterbalanced by huge contracts Veolia is geting from Arab countries that you’d expect would be in solidarity with the Palestinians. A couple of months back, Veolia signed a 10-year $400 milion contract with Saudia to design, build and operate a desalination plant. In 2007, Veolia signed a $945 million contract with it for the construction of one of the world’s largest desalination plants and in 2008, Veolia got a multi-million dollar contract for water distribution and waste management for the city of Riyadh. In 2011, it signed an agreement with King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals to set up research facilities at the high-tech Dhahran Techno-Valley. Saudi Arabia isn’t the only Arab country going along with Veolia, others in the Gulf and North Africa are also into it.

    Oddly, Veolia that partnered with Alstom in the building of the apartheid Jerusalem Light Rail is still getting Saudi business while Alstom because of the dust kicked-up by BDS was thankfully boycotted by Saudi Arabia on the $10 billion contract to build the 2nd phase of its Haramein fast rail line. The Alstom loss in Saudia was a huge win for BDS and equal in amount to the one lost by Veolia for the Stockholm transit; hopefully the Saudis will one day also kick out Veolia.

    Alstom BTW, that’s now building the fast rail between Jerusalem and TA (that’s crossing through stolen Palestinian lands at Canada Village in the Latrun and which the Germans stopped working on thanks to BDS), built the Dubai Metro and a dozen other mass transit systems (some with Veolia) in other Arab countries. As of last year before Veolia began divesting world-wide from its transportation business because it needed the cash to invest in the more profitable and promising water and waste-management division, it had been operating 3 relatively small public transportion companies in Lebanon.

    • it shouldn’t be receiving the lion’s share of the credit for what happened in St Louis as it was but one of several opponents to Veolia.

      walid, this is from STL-PSC’s press release above:

      When the contract came to light, the PSC helped form a local coalition to “Dump Veolia.” The Coalition included a wide spectrum of the St. Louis community, as well as national organizations.

      this is from dump veolia’s website link to dumpveolia.org

      We are a group of concerned residents who want St. Louis to “Dump Veolia.” Veolia is a multinational company infamous for: environmental degradation, labor abuses, privatization of water, failure to deliver promised improvements, discriminatory practices and support for human rights abuses in Palestine. This website is designed to explain our concerns about Veolia, what it could mean for St Louis and how you can get involved.

      ​……[read more]….

      Missouri Coalition for the Environment​

      St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee

      Sierra Club, Eastern Missouri Group

      Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice​

      Corporate Accountability International

      Food and Water Watch

      15th Ward Democrats

      Organization for Black Struggle

      Missouri Muslims for Civic Engagement

      St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace

      St. Louis University Justice for Palestine

      US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

      Council for American Islamic Relations, St. Louis
      Instead of War Coalition​

      Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment

      iow, for sure this was a community effort and in my opening paragraph above, i thought i made that very clear.

      and while it is not for me to judge who should have the lion’s share of credit here, because obviously this WAS a very broad coalition i would urge you to open the ‘news dump’ link i provided above, which includes dozens and dozens of news dispatches covering the history of this event. i read lots of them. especially open Jessica Lussenhop ‘s (reporter who first broke the news) 6 page article, see page 3 cited below. “Her front page article of their February 6, 2013 print edition was a detailed investigative report:”

      After Riverfront Times broke news of the pending deal with Veolia in December, something unexpected happened. A small but steadily growing coalition of social-justice and environmental activists have given the deal — once destined for the rubber stamp — a violent shove off of the table and into campaign discourse.

      The founding organization of Dump Veolia is a group called the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, which since its inception in 2009 has been researching Veolia’s reputation.

      As a participant in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, STL-PSC researches companies that in any way facilitate occupation of Palestinian land and seek commitments from governments, businesses and private citizens not to engage financially with them. The BDS movement targets companies as diverse as Timberland, SodaStream and Caterpillar.

      STL-PSC member Anna Baltzer says she was surprised to read that Veolia had contracts in her own back yard.

      “There needs to be time to share information and concerns,” she says of the contract. “Our hope is that if not voted against, it would at least be postponed.”

      Since then, Dump Veolia has been calling attention to the blemishes on Veolia’s reputation. In Indianapolis, where the company ran the water utility, the company is currently the defendant in two class-action lawsuits that accuse them of over-billing customers. The city bought Veolia out of its contract early after a slew of allegations of mismanagement, price gouging and even lowering the water quality to save money. A nonprofit watchdog group out of Washington, D.C., called Food & Water Watch has also had its eye on Veolia for years.

      “We have seen examples where they’ve managed sewage systems; under their management there’s been sewage spills,” says Mary Grant, a researcher at Food & Water Watch. “There’s also a lot of private companies in general when they take over, they do engage in corner cutting.”

      Kat Logan Smith, the director of environmental policy for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, is one of the local environmentalists opposed to working with Veolia.

      “This is a company with a bad record,” she says. “We don’t necessarily want this particular company making any decisions about [our water] at all, end of story.”

      On December 19, 2012, the Veolia contract was set to be approved by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, a three-member board made of Slay, Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green. After Dump Veolia inundated Reed and Green’s offices with calls, both politicians balked at the vote and suggested the contract should go back to the search committee. When the contract — unchanged — found its way back onto the next E&A meeting agenda on January 16, several dozen Dump Veolia members lined the hallway in front of the mayor’s office.

      Rather than force the contract through on January 16, the E&A Board pulled it from the meeting. Afterward, Green made public a letter she wrote to Reed asking him to hold hearings on the contract “as soon as possible.”

      here is the full report on one page. it begins on pg 1 back in 2010. according to the reporter who broke the news, the ” deal — once destined for the rubber stamp ” got “— a violent shove off of the table and into campaign discourse.” because of Dump Veolia, a group, St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, being the “founding organization”.

      once veolia became an issue during the election campaign, the whole community of St. Louis became much more engaged and involved.

      • Walid says:

        Annie, I wasn’t thinking of you when I wrote about the lion’s share but it was directed at the reaction it was getting here and at the poster under the opening title. You opened your article by stating that it had been an effort by several groups. I wrote that BDS having joined the battle surely helped to defeat it, and I went further in saying that it was not the major reason behind Veolia walking away from the confrontation. It was the collective effort of several great groups including pro-Palestinian ones that pushed Veolia into walking away. The bone I was picking or pecking at was with SA and the other Arab countries that are showering companies like Veolia and Alstom with huge contracts while other people that are not all involved in the Palestinian conflict, such as the ones in Stockholm, that went all out to kick out Veolia because of it or the Karama European activist group that got the Saudis to quit on Alstom for a $10 billion contract. Another European group got German Railways to quit their involvement in the building of the Jerusalem-TA fast rail line because it was going through the Latrun on the WB.

  13. hophmi says:

    Hmm, no mention of BDS here:

    link to stltoday.com

    Oh wait. Maybe that’s because the Dump Veolia campaign was based on many bad Veolia environmental practices around the United States, not just the I-P conflict, and that ten other cities have dumped Veolia, and BDS has had nothing to do with it.

    So, another tiny victory for BDS.

    • Hmm, no mention of BDS here

      from your article:

      The decision was a major victory for a group called the Dump Veolia Coalition, which has protested the contract throughout the year.

      considering the founders of dump veolia are very much about BDS i hardly think BDS can be divorced from Dump Veolia!

      Maybe that’s because the Dump Veolia campaign was based on many bad Veolia environmental practices around the United States

      actually, you can visit their website and read about what the coalition was “based on”. link to dumpveolia.org

      SUMMARY:

      Veolia Water North America is a subsidiary of Veolia Environnement, a Paris-based multinational corporation and the largest water privatization business in the world. Veolia is infamous for:

      Failure to make good on promised improvements​

      Anti-labor practices​

      Privatization of public resources​

      Irresponsible and disastrous environmental practices​

      Mismanagement, corruption, bribery, and embezzlement​

      Supporting and profiting from segregation and discrimination in Palestine

      and further down the page, as part of their description of complaints:

      Supporting Apartheid and Segregation in Israel/Palestine

      ​Veolia is involved in Israel’s systematic ethnic discrimination against the Palestinians in many ways:

      An Israeli subsidiary, Veolia Water – Israel, operates a wastewater treatment plant located in an illegal Jewish-only settlement called Modiin Ilit, built on Palestinian land in the West Bank. The owners of the land on which this settlement was built have been violently driven out. Two unarmed Palestinians from the Palestinian village on which Modiin Ilit was built, have been killed as they protested nonviolently against the ongoing confiscation of their land and resources. Veolia continues to service the settlement.

      
      Another Israeli subsidiary, Veolia Environmental Services – Israel, supervises, consults for, and operates the Tovlan Landfill in the occupied Jordan Valley, collecting refuse from illegal settlements. Israel renders it almost impossible for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley to gain permits to build homes, toilets, wells, animal pens, or other vital infrastructure for local communities, which has forced almost all Palestinian families out, with those remaining living in dire conditions. Some are left with no alternative but to work on settlements that have taken their families’ land, for pay far below the minimum wage, unable to take bathroom breaks, and denied any rights to unionize. Veolia takes captured Palestinian land and natural resources to service the settlements exploiting or driving out Palestinians.

      
      UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk has recommended that Veolia “should be boycotted, until they bring their operations into line with international human rights and humanitarian law and standards.” Veolia’s extensive profiting from Israel’s illegal practices have provoked global outcry. Veolia has lost more than $16 billion in contracts following campaigns like St. Louis Dump Veolia, protesting Veolia’s participation in human rights violations. In 2012, the Friends Fiduciary Corporation, which handles investments for hundreds of U.S. Quaker institutions, also divested from Veolia for these reasons.
      

    • yrn says:

      Why spoil the party
      If they think it’s a big victory
      Let the BDS have great victory’s as that