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BDS Victory as Veolia sells off all Israeli operations

Bin Veolia Australia campaign calls for action on human rights violations

More BDS successes as Veolia sells most business interests in Israel

Veolia on Separation Wall
Palestinian civil society activists have heralded the decision by French corporate giant Veolia to sell off nearly all of its business activity in Israel as a huge victory for the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The sale follows a worldwide campaign against the company’s role in illegal Israeli settlements that cost the firm billions of dollars of lost contracts.

Veolia has now reported that the sale of its water, waste and energy contracts to Oaktree Capital, a Los Angles based investment firm, has been completed, leaving its stake in the ​illegal ​Jerusalem Light Rail as its only business interest in Israel.

Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), a broad Palestinian civil society coalition that leads the global BDS movement, said:

“Grassroots BDS activism across the world made it very difficult for Veolia to win public contracts in some parts of Europe, the US and the Middle East, leaving the company no choice but to significantly scale back its involvement in illegal Israeli projects.”

“The BDS movement is showing that there is a price to pay for participating in Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian land. One of Europe’s biggest companies has been forced to sell its businesses in Israel that violate international law.”

Around 10 authorities in Ireland and the UK introduced official policy barring Veolia from public contracts. Councils in at least 25 cities including London, Stockholm and Boston opted not to award or renew contracts with Veolia following public campaigns that were backed by local community leaders, churches, trade unions and mainstream political parties.

Many investors including the Dutch ASN Bank and the Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation have divested from Veolia over its role in Israeli settlements, while other major banks and the Swedish AP pension fund have issued public statements condemning Veolia’s role in the settlements. Several “socially responsible investment” information providers have told campaigners they have listed the firm as having serious human rights concerns.

Veolia continues to remain involved in the illegal Jerusalem Light Rail that links Israeli colonies to west Jerusalem through its holdings in Veolia Transdev, but has announced its intention to sell its holding in the railway.

In 2014, Veolia stated in letters to BDS organizers that it had also “terminated its involvement in the Tovlan landfill … over three years ago.” Tovlan processes waste from Israel and its illegal settlements in the OPT. This claim was proven to be false, however, by official records obtained from the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection in September 2013, which show beyond doubt that the operator of the illegal Tovlan landfill at the time was still Veolia’s subsidiary, T.M.M. Integrated Recycling Services.

Ownership of the Tovlan site and wastewater treatment contracts for illegal Israeli settlements is now expected to transfer to Oaktree.

“By buying up these businesses, Oaktree has become an active accomplice in Israel’s ongoing violations of international law,” Nawajaa added.

Mainly due to boycott pressure on it in the US and Europe, and particularly the campaign’s focus on its “apartheid bus operations,” which served Israel’s illegal settlements, Veolia had sold its entire bus operations in Israel in 2013.

Nawajaa explained that the campaign against Veolia would continue because the firm remains a shareholder in the illegal Jerusalem Light Rail project.

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Veolia loses $4.26 billion rail contract in Massachusetts

Protest against Veolia in Cambridge, MA 14.11.2012

Over the last two and a half years, supporters of Palestinian rights in Boston have mounted a BDS campaign aimed at denying a new contract to run the Massachusetts commuter rail to Veolia, one of three companies that formed the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR).  With a 60 percent stake in the MBCR, Veolia has been in charge of operating and maintaining the trains since 2003.

On January 8, they tasted victory, when a contract that could be worth as much as $4.26 billion was awarded to the MBCR’s sole competitor, Keolis America, by a vote of the joint Board for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).

During the public comment period before the Board vote, members of the groups that came together in a  ‘Derail Veolia’ coalition urged the Board to be “on the right side of history,” and deny a new contract to a company that is complicit in human rights violations in the occupied West Bank and that is the target of an increasingly powerful international and national campaign.  They also highlighted Veolia’s attacks on labor and a range of other practices that do not serve the public, including its role as the world’s leading water privatizer.

They further pointed out evidence of the MBCR’s poor performance over the past decade, including its record of late arrivals, chronic delays, cancellations and dark, cold coaches, a declining ridership, OSHA fines for ‘serious health and safety offenses,’ cases of double-billing, and tens of millions of dollars of additional costs to the Massachusetts taxpayers that were not in the original contract.

A representative from Veolia who addressed the Board denounced the BDS campaign.  The MBCR urged the Board to delay its decision-making for at least a month, and give it the opportunity to discuss its proposal for a new contract in greater depth.

But this was not to be.  The MBTA/MassDot Board decided to act immediately on a recommendation of the General Manager of the MBTA that the contract be awarded to Keolis for offering a superior proposal in terms of pricing, operations and maintenance plans.  The vote to do so was unanimous.  The Jewish Community Relations Council immediately claimed the vote had nothing to do with Veolia’s work in Israel or the BDS campaign.

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