SARAH COLBORNE describes how a resolute, worldwide campaign forced a French transnational into quitting contracts in Israel’s illegal settlements
Veolia, the French multinational, has finally broken its last contracts profiting from Israel’s occupation and violations of human rights. An intensive worldwide campaign focused attention on Veolia’s involvement in Israel’s illegal settlement programmes.
Who Profits — the group that exposes companies profiting from Israeli occupation — reported that Veolia has just sold its 5 per cent stake in CityPass, the consortium running the Jerusalem Light Railway (JLR).
According to Who Profits, the sale “is the final step in Veolia’s gradual withdrawal from the Israeli market and several illegal operations in the occupied Palestinian territory.”
There is no doubt whatsoever that the campaign exposing Veolia’s profiting from illegal Israeli activities in the occupied Palestinian territory forced it into taking this action.
The company, rightly, acquired a damaging and toxic reputation for its involvement in Israel — from transferring waste from Israel onto occupied Palestinian land in its landfill site in the Jordan Valley, to its bus services, which served settlers living in illegal Israeli settlements, to its involvement in the JLR.
The campaign against Veolia united people across the world in support of human rights, justice and international law.
In councils around Britain, when local waste contracts were being reviewed, campaigners challenged their local authorities, calling on them not to award the contract to a company which profited from human misery and violations of international law.
Between 2010-13 Veolia lost or withdrew from waste contracts worth over £10 billion worldwide. These contracts included many in Britain, such as the £4.7bn — over 25 years — one with the North London Waste Authority.
Other similar contracts in Britain were with Sandwell Metropolitan, Edinburgh, Richmond, Portsmouth, Winchester and East Hants, South London Waste Partnership, Ealing, West London Waste Authority, East Sussex, Harrow, Canterbury, Liverpool, the north Wales incinerator project, and the south Wales incinerator project.
Protests also took place for three years outside the Natural History Museum in London over Veolia’s sponsorship of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Veolia terminated the sponsorship.
These local campaigns united Palestine Solidarity Campaign activists, trade unionists, faith groups and many others. Students, including at Queen Mary, University of London, and the University of East London, passed motions urging their institutions not to award any more contracts to Veolia.
Local councils, including Swansea, Dublin and Tower Hamlets also passed motions calling for future contracts not to be awarded to Veolia.
The campaign against the company caught the imagination of all those who believe that companies should adhere to ethical and responsible principles, respect human rights and international law. They were strengthened by policies adopted by trade unions — TUC policy calls for action against companies profiting from Israel’s illegal settlements, occupation and the so-called “separation barrier” — the wall.
Many individual unions adopted similar policies including the Communication Workers Union (CWU), which in April 2015 targeted Veolia for its complicity in the illegal Israeli occupation.
Pressure on Veolia had been growing all the time and it had already attempted to disentangle itself from the bus franchise and landfill operations, but as it became more public it must have become harder to find buyers for its stake in the JLR.
Who Profits reported that “due to the controversy surrounding the light rail, it appeared that international companies were hesitant to take on Veolia’s role,” so, despite the Israeli government looking for an experienced international operator to continue operations, its stake was sold to local Israeli investors.
Despite Veolia’s disengagement, the JLR continues to operate with trains driving over illegally expropriated Palestinian land for the benefit of settlers and bypassing Palestinian neighbourhoods.
The campaign against Veolia has increased public awareness of the complicity of many companies in Israel’s brutal occupation — and also increased awareness that “people power” can actually make a change.
Veolia suffered serious damage to its reputation and finances as a result.
The Veolia case serves as an example to all companies — doing business with the Israeli apartheid regime risks losing contracts and gaining a bad reputation.
You can’t do “business as usual” with a country that violates international law and commits war crimes against a population it keeps under a brutal military occupation.
Veolia is not the only company profiting from Palestinian dispossession and suffering. From G4S to Hewlett Packard other companies are also gaining a bad reputation.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is determined to increase the pressure on companies to end their complicit co-operation. Important resources are being produced — including a guide by Unison on how to campaign against pension funds being invested in Israel’s occupation.
Even small actions, such as checking the label on the goods you buy in the supermarket, have an effect as supermarkets become increasingly aware that consumers are unwilling to eat the fruits of Israeli apartheid.