Royal HaskoningDHV, a Netherlands-based engineering company, is reviewing its involvement in designing a sewage treatment plant in East Jerusalem after the Dutch government discouraged the firm from aiding Israeli settlements.
Yesterday, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported the participation of Royal HaskoningDHV in a wastewater project for the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality which includes the construction of a sewage treatment plant in occupied East Jerusalem. According to the paper, the Dutch government has asked Royal HaskoningDHV to rethink its participation.
A spokesperson from the Dutch foreign ministry confirmed in an email to me that the request had been made. The spokesperson stated:
The Dutch government discourages investments by Dutch companies in or servicing the settlements in the West Bank, and it does not provide assistance to Dutch companies that want to engage in settlement activities. This is not a new policy. The settlements are illegal according to international law.
In this context, we informed Royal HaskoningDHV of the obligation the Dutch government has set itself to actively inform businesses. It is not prohibited for Dutch companies to engage in such economic relationships. The responsibility rests with the companies themselves.
The Dutch government’s initiative follows the advice of the Netherlands Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV), a well-respected independent body which advises the government and parliament on foreign policy. In a report published in March, the AIV urged the authorities to “actively discourage Dutch and European companies from doing business with Israeli companies in the settlements.”
“Highest regard for integrity”
Asked for a comment, Royal HaskoningDHV spokesperson Peter Vlugt confirmed that the company is considering the future of the project. Vlugt stated:
Royal HaskoningDHV is involved in the preliminary design of a municipal wastewater treatment plant in East Jerusalem. We carry out our work with the highest regard for integrity and always follow (inter)national laws and regulations.
The Dutch ministry of foreign affairs has informed us of possible aspects relating to international law that may influence the project.
At this moment we are reviewing with all parties involved the consequences of the situation and the influence this may have on the progress of the project with all parties involved. We will not proceed with the next steps in the project until the situation has been clarified.
Royal HaskoningDHV also expressed its commitment to the principles and standards contained in the UN Global Compact and the 2012 corporate responsibility report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The UN Global Compact is a set of principles regarding business conduct. The first two principles state that businesses should support and respect the protection of human rights and should make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the annexation of East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. The Netherlands’ national public prosecutor’s office has made it clear that international law prohibits Israel’s transfer of parts of its civilian population into the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and the unlawful destruction and appropriation of Palestinian property. Individual involvement in these violations is a crime, according to the Dutch International Crimes Act.
Royal HaskoningDHV’s commitment to integrity is not compatible with providing services that strengthen Israel’s grip on occupied East Jerusalem. If Royal HaskoningDHV continues its involvement in the wastewater treatment plan, it risks losing public contracts.
Richard Falk, a UN special rapporteur on Palestine, has urged states to implement the new “UN guiding principles on business and human rights” in his latest report to the UN General Assembly. These principles suggest that state authorities consider “denying or withdrawing existing public support or services” to companies that fail to address their involvement in cases that involve serious human rights abuses.