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UN rights expert calls for North London Veolia boycott

A United Nations special rapporteur has written to members of the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) urging them to exclude Veolia from its contracts procurement.

Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, stated (see PDF to the right) the French utilities giant was complicit in Israeli violations of international law, citing its subsidiaries’ involvement in a rail system and landfill site in the occupied territories.

In April 2010, the UN Human Rights Council declared the Jerusalem Light Railway to be “in clear violation of international law”.

Falk, a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, said Veolia’s “deep and protracted complicity with grave breaches of international law make it an inappropriate partner for any public institution, especially as a provider of public services”.

He added: “I urge you to follow the example set by public authorities and European banks that have chosen to disassociate themselves from Veolia and take the just and principled decision not to award Veolia any public service contracts.”

The NLWA waste and energy procurements are a target of Palestinian rights activists.

Michael Deas, a London campaigner, told MRW Veolia had lost out on more than £8bn of work across Europe due to its business involvements in Israel.

“The north London councils currently considering awarding Veolia contracts worth nearly £5bn should take note of the wide support the campaign against Veolia has received,” he said.

An NLWA spokesperson said: “Issues around the West Bank and Gaza continue to be ones that cause very strong feelings.

“We have carefully considered the comments made by Mr Falk, as we do all comments made in relation to the authority’s procurement project. However his comments do not alter the legal position.

“The authority must take into account EU procurement regulations and relevant UK local government acts. Our legal advice is very clear on this issue and we cannot exclude any bidder from our procurement for the reasons outlined by Mr. Falk and others.

“We will be responding to Mr. Falk directly on this issue.”

A spokesman for Veolia Environmental Services UK referred MRW to a statement by the US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice:

“His call for a boycott of private companies is irresponsible and unacceptable. Throughout his tenure, Mr. Falk has been highly biased and made offensive statements.

“His recommendations do nothing to further a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and indeed poison the environment for peace.”

The spokesman added: “The British government has now complained to the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. In a letter, Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi described Mr. Falk’s comments as ‘unacceptable’.”

The shortlisted bidders for waste services are FCC/Skanska and Veolia Environmental Services UK, and for the fuel use contract are E.On/ Wheelabrator and Veolia Environmental Services UK.

The 25-year NLWA contract is worth £4.7bn. The contract will be decided in a confidential meeting on Friday.

Veolia Environmental Services UK and Veolia Transport are both subsidiaries of French parent Veolia Environnement.

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