Veolia cuts losses in Israel after boycott

Utilities corporation Veolia Environnement has withdrawn from the Israeli market, after a campaign against its involvement in the occupied territories and illegal settlements allegedly cost the company billions of pounds in lost contracts.

By selling its five per cent stake in the Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR), the French corporation has now completely ended its involvement in Israel, after it sold off its energy, waste and water contracts in April.

Veolia has been the subject of a seven-year boycott from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a body run by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), which is campaigning against Israel ‘until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights’.

The JLR system connects West Jerusalem with settlements in East Jerusalem, which is land regarded by Palestinians and the wider international community to be illegally occupied. In 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Council described the rail system as servicing settlements, ‘requiring the confiscation of… Palestinian land and demolitions of homes and businesses’.

Directors of Transdev, the Veolia subsidiary that controlled the corporation’s stake in the JLR, have reportedly said that the decision to withdraw from the project was influenced by business rather than political pressure, saying that the exit from the Israeli market was planned since last year.

Among the contracts Veolia held in Israel until April was the Tovlan landfill, which was located in the occupied territories and processed waste from the disputed territory, and wastewater treatment for Modi’in Illit, an illegal settlement of roughly 60,000 situated in the occupied West Bank. All contracts were sold to Oaktree Capital, a Los Angeles-based investment firm.

Explaining the sale to Oaktree, a Veolia statement read: ‘This transaction will contribute to Veolia’s debt reduction by around €250 million. It is part of Veolia’s strategy to refocus the Group geographically and to concentrate on areas where it can seize less capital intensive opportunities, as defined by its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Antoine Frérot at the end of 2011.’

Campaign against Veolia

The BDS campaign was launched in November 2008 to pressure the company into ending its involvement in ‘Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights’.

Over the course of the boycott, Veolia, which employs over 200,000 people worldwide, has lost tenders in the US, Europe and Asia worth over £13 billion, according to BDS.

For example, it was forced to withdraw from a waste contract bid for the North London Waste Authority in 2012, a partnership reportedly worth up to £4 billion over 25 years.

Elsewhere, authorities have rejected Veolia due to its involvement in the Palestinian territories. In September 2014, the Kuwait City Municipality cited the BDS movement as a reason for excluding Veolia from a solid waste management contract valued at £490 million. The municipality then decided to exclude the company from ‘all future projects’, leading to its withdrawal from a tender for a waste water treatment station worth around £1 billion.

Withdrawal ‘a victory for human rights’

The Palestinian BNC General Coordinator, Mahmoud Nawajaa, described Veolia’s complete withdrawal from illegal Israeli projects as a victory for all human rights campaigners who have pressured the company.

He said: “Strategic and dedicated campaigning by the BDS movement has forced one of Europe’s biggest companies to abandon the Israeli market.

“Veolia’s withdrawal from Israel sets an example to all companies that are complicit in Israel’s human rights violations. This is a victory for the BDS movement and all our partners from other rights movements who have helped in pressuring the company.

“We call for legal action, by specialised organisations, against Veolia to compel it to pay reparations to the Palestinian communities adversely affected by its infringements of international law.”

Riya Hassan, the BNC’s Europe coordinator, added: “Veolia is still a target for union activists, environmentalists and anti-privatisation campaigners, due to its record of anti-labour policies and involvement in the privatisation of public water.

“All those still being affected by Veolia’s policies and struggling for accountability and reparations can continue to count on our solidarity. The BDS movement takes cross-struggle solidarity to heart.”