Veolia remains key BDS target due to deep complicity with Israeli crimes
(PS: See the response from Anna Baltzer, below this one)
Greg Dropkin writes:
A recent article in Global Water Intelligence acknowledges the impact of the international BDS campaign against Veolia, but claims that the company is merely a convenient focus rather than an appropriate target for solidarity with Palestine.
GWI publisher Christian Gasson claims that “In October last year they signed a deal with Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations to transfer “exclusive control” of Veolia Transport, including the 5% interest in the JLRT to CDC. The fact that Veolia has essentially dumped its transport division doesn’t seem to have had any impact on the “Dump Veolia” cause.”
In fact, Veolia has not dumped its transport division, has not transferred “exclusive control” to CDC, and would remain complicit with the Israeli occupation even if Gasson’s erroneous claims were true.
The CDC deal
Last October, Veolia did indeed sign a deal with CDC. The details were reported at length in an Agence France Presse article on 7 Nov 2012. The article describes the current ownership of Veolia Transdev as split 50-50 between Veolia and CDC. The plan envisages CDC raising its stake to 60% sometime in 2013, with Veolia’s share falling to 20% in 2014. Veolia Financial Director Pierre-François Riolacci acknowledged that Veolia’s plan to sell shares, in order to pay off huge debts, depended on CDC being able to increase its own investment.
So far, there has been no announcement that CDC has increased its holding and no date on which they will do so, and documents concerning Transdev on the CDC website* continue to refer to a 50-50 split.
Even if all goes to plan, Veolia will hold 50% of Transdev falling to 40% sometime in 2013, and only sometime in 2014 will their stake fall to 20%.
The Afikim deal
A few months before the as yet unimplemented CDC deal, Haaretz reported Veolia was in “advanced negotiations to sell part of its public transportation Connex bus division to the Afikim group”. There has been no further online report of these talks, and on 13 February 2013 a Hebrew-language journal simply referred to Afikim as a competitor that was interested “in the past” in the purchase of public transport operations.
The Egged deal
The Haaretz article quoted above also states “Last week the firm agreed to sell to Egged its 25% share in the company that operates the Jerusalem light rail system”. Again, there is no evidence that this deal has actually been completed. Previous attempts to sell to Egged were blocked by the Israeli regulatory authorities as Veolia acknowledge and if the deal goes through Veolia will still own 55% of Connex Jerusalem, which operates the JLR and in which Veolia holds 80% of the shares.
The impact of the boycott
In the AFP report and elsewhere, the debt burden which Veolia seeks to alleviate through various sell-offs, is said to be around 15 billion euros. By coincidence, this is rather close to the estimated value of contracts which Veolia has lost or withdrawn their bid after campaigns highlighted their role in Palestine. In October 2012, the figure stood at € 12.296 billion. Since then, Veolia withdrew from the £4.7 bn North London waste contract in which they had been one of two preferred bidders.
Veolia Israel CEO resigns
Again, it may be coincidence but the 13 February 2013 report leads with the resignation of Veolia Israel CEO Arnon Fishbein. No replacement has been named so far, Who Profits confirms.
A legitimate target
While the GWI report is based on a misunderstanding of the CDC deal, or at least its current state of implementation, the grounds for boycotting Veolia in solidarity with Palestine include waste management activities as well as transport. Specifically, as owner / operator of the Tovlan Landfill (see here, here andhere) and with wastewater services to the illegal Israeli settlement Modi’in Ilit Veolia remains complicit, whether or not the company eventually sells off their involvement in bus services connecting the settlements on apartheid roads, or the Jerusalem Light Railway.
If Veolia is finally feeling the heat over their activities in Palestine, this hardly means the campaign was misplaced. It proves the campaign is working. While Veolia continues their complicity in violations of the 4thGeneva Convention, we and others intend to press on -see, for example, here and here.
* use keyword “Transdev” in http://www.caissedesdepots.fr/nc/en/services/search.html
Anna Balzer writes
Dear Christopher Gasson,
We apologize for the delayed response to your email. Seeing that you published your piece before hearing why Veolia continues to be a target, we took the time to undertake extensive investigation to double-check our previous research and evaluate the assertions in your article, specifically:
1) “Veolia has essentially dumped its transport division,”
2) “Veolia has effectively divested itself of its transport division,” and
(3) Veolia was “hit by a protest campaign which they have absolutely nothing to do with.”
We have outlined our findings below.
As referenced in the article, Veolia Environnement announced last year an agreement with Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations (CDC) to reduce Veolia’s capital investment in Veolia Transdev from 50% to 40% of shares, leaving 60% in the hands of CDC.
Though Veolia announced this several months ago, no reduction has occurred to date and Veolia remains every bit as implicated in the Israeli occupation as before the announcement. As reported last November, the reduction was slated to take place in mid-2013. The pending nature of the reduction was confirmed in adocument released by Veolia on the same day as your article.
Someone committing a crime is not absolved by announcing they plan to stop. While we welcome Veolia’s desire to reduce its investment in Israel’s human rights abuses, we hold companies accountable to what they are doing, not what they claim they are going to do.
40% Represents a Vested Interest
Even if Veolia had reduced its shares to 40% — which it hasn’t — that still represents a significant stake in Transdev, which operates the light rail in Jerusalem as well as four segregated Israeli bus lines though the occupied Palestinian territory. We reject the notion that profiting at 40% from Palestinian suffering would absolve Veolia of accountability. We hold all owners (CDC too, of course) of Transdev accountable. In our view, as long as Veolia has a stake, it has a problem.
Though holding a minority share would lessen Veolia’s decision-making power, the article goes much further, stating that Veolia “basically dumped” and “divested itself of” the transport division, as if it were no longer involved. We know of no such announcement, though we would certainly welcome one.
Veolia’s Transgressions Go Beyond Transdev
Furthermore, even if Veolia were to fully dump or divest itself of its transport division (and there is no indication that they plan to do this), it still continues to be involved in the occupation in various other ways. The biggest example is that Veolia Environnement owns and operates the Tovlan landfill in the occupied West Bank. This landfill collects refuse from illegal settlements and from within Israel, using illegally captured Palestinian land and natural resources. This operation of this dump is contrary to international law; it is a form of pillage, defined as a war crime. In fact, UN General Assembly Resolution 63/201 of 28 January 2009, specifically calls on Israel to cease the dumping of all kinds of waste materials on occupied Palestinian land.
There is no reason to question Veolia as a target as long as it continues to operate illegally on Palestinian land and profit from the violation of human rights.
The boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement is not alone in this. Citing Veolia as a business “profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise,” United Nations Special Rapporteur to the Palestinian Territories Richard Falk recently issued a news release calling for a boycott of companies including Veolia “until they bring their operations into line with international human rights and humanitarian law and standards.”
Veolia’s Transgressions Go Beyond Palestine
Furthermore, even if the company were to fully dump or divest itself of the Israeli occupation (and we believe that with enough pressure, it will), it bears clarification that the St. Louis Dump Veolia coalition is a local, diverse group coalition of organizations concerned also with environmental, labor, and other issues. As documented here, Veolia is infamous for privatizing public resources, disastrous environmental practices, and labor abuses, and has a record of mismanagement, embezzlement, bribery, corruption, and fraud. A recent legal analysis has shown that the Veolia contract — which differs from Veolia’s proposal — would be a significant step towards privatization of city water operations.
As part of the St. Louis Dump Veolia coalition, the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee is working alongside environmentalists, public workers, civil rights leaders, veterans, local business owners, and other concerned residents to challenge Veolia in our city. We are not “an internet-based protest movement.” We are a home-grown, grassroots, diverse collection of mothers, fathers, grandparents, students, water workers artists, bakers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and many others who care about our water, our environment, our public service workers, and human rights — at home and beyond.
In short, in addition to mischaracterizing our campaign and coalition, you offer no documentation behind your assertions that: (1) “Veolia has essentially dumped its transport division,” (2) “Veolia has effectively divested itself of its transport division,” and (3) Veolia was “hit by a protest campaign which they have absolutely nothing to do with.” If you are privy to data verifying what you published, we would be delighted to view it. Nobody would be happier than us about this news.
Short of that, we expect that as a reporter you will immediately correct the inaccuracies in your article.
We understand that your entire article hinged on the assumption that Veolia had dumped its involvement in Transdev. We can understand your frustration and caution you that Veolia has a history of misleading news reporters. For example, Veolia executives repeatedly claimed that the company had sold the Tovlan landfill to a neighboring illegal settlement in 2011, remaining there only as operator and consultant. Among other times, Veolia claimed this at a hearing [video here] about a local Veolia contract in Santa Rosa, during a campaign similar to the current one in St. Louis. A recent statement from the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection proves that the company is still the sole owner of the site, in direct contradiction to their previous promises. This was quite an embarrassment to Veolia and to reporters who had taken Veolia at its word.
Please confirm that you received this email. We look forward to seeing a corrected version and are at your service to provide any additional information that you may require for that purpose.