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Pressure mounts on Veolia over Israel links

Global waste management firm Veolia is facing renewed pressure in the UK over its operations in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

Last week Palestinian rights protesters lobbied Canterbury City Council’s executive as it discussed a proposal to join a waste management contract held by Veolia Environmental Services with Dover and Shepway district councils.

Campaigners from East Kent Justice for Palestinians said they wanted the council to boycott the French-owned firm, which they say is complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land due to its current and previous activities there.

Canterbury Council opposition leader councillor Alex Perkins asked the council leader whether he was aware that a tram system Veolia was involved with was in breach of a UN resolution.

Perkins told MRW the council now had “an extra, moral dimension to consider”.

“At some point you have to decide, as a local councillor, whether you’re going to make a decision just on the basis of who is offering the cheapest contract. Or whether, actually you’re going to decide, do you really want to get into bed with the devil?”

Canterbury council head of neighbourhood services Larissa Laing said: “The council has the right to exclude certain companies from a competition for a contract and the exclusions are set out in the 2006 regulations.

“However, we are not choosing a contractor at this stage - we are establishing whether we can join in to an existing contract where the contractor has already been chosen by Dover and Shepway.

“Even if those exclusions did apply, we do not think that activities in the Middle East by other companies relate to what we are considering in this contract.”

In April 2010, the UN Human Rights Council declared the Jerusalem Light Railway, which Veolia Transport operated and until recently held a 5% stake in, to be “in clear breach of international law”. The company still provides technical support to the rail system, which links illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank with mainland Israel.

Until recently, Veolia also owned and operated a landfill site in the occupied Jordan Valley, where waste from Israeli settlements is dumped.

A spokesperson for East Kent Justice for Palestinians said the international campaign against Veolia “appeared to be very successful” and could affect councils that award contracts to the company.

“Veolia is becoming a dubious partner for councils both ethically and financially,” she said.

Veolia Environmental Services UK refused to comment.

Veolia Environmental Services UK and Veolia Transport are both subsidiaries of Veolia Environnement which, in December announced a programme to sell off £4.3bn of assets and slash its debts by £2.5bn. This week it saw its senior unsecured ratings downgraded from A3 to Baa1 by credit ratings agency Moody’s.

How the anti-Veolia campaign has grown

Pressure on Veolia over its Israel links gained new momentum last month when the National Union of Students (NUS) called on its members to campaign against the company.

Campaigners from the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement are targeting the North London Waste Authority procurement process, in which Veolia is one of three firms shortlisted for a deal to process up to 300,000 tonnes of solid recovered fuel.

Protests are also expected at the Veolia-sponsored wildlife photographer of the year exhibition at the Natural History Museum on 11 February.

Campaigners said the boycott in Europe, which began in 2006/7, was having an effect on Veolia’s business.

In December, the firm announced a divestment programme to slash its debts by £2.5bn, following a series of profit warnings and a credit downgrading.

Michael Deas, coordinator in Europe of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, claimed Veolia had lost out on more than £8bn of work across Europe due to its Israeli connections.

“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 added.

In 2011 Tower Hamlets Council passed a motion calling for the borough’s mayor to review its contract with Veolia because of the issue. In 2010 Swansea Council agreed not to sign or renew any contracts with the company.

 

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