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Palestine solidarity activists tell Canterbury City Council to dump Veolia

Palestine solidarity activists are putting pressure on Canterbury City Council to dump the transportation giant Veolia because of its role in Israeli occupation and apartheid.

It all started at a meeting for pensioners where city council officials introduced the recycling bins that would be used in 2013 by a new contractor without revealing the name of the company. Palestine solidarity campaigner Diane Langford inquired if Veolia was the new service provider. After a long silence, the officials said such information could be obtained via a request under the Freedom of Information Act.  It turned out that Canterbury City planned to award the new waste contract to Veolia through the backdoor. Meanwhile more than a thousand citizens have joined the protests, including the former Bishop of Dover.

Plan to award waste contract without required tender process protested

Following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, Langford received confirmation that Canterbury City Council planned to award Veolia the new waste treatment contract. Alarmed Palestine solidarity activists told the city council executive committee about Veolia’s role in Israel’s illegal activities in the occupied West Bank, such as dumping waste in breach of a UN resolution. In addition, they specified that the council could legally exclude a company from bidding for public contracts if it had been involved in grave professional misconduct. Protestors showed their support for the action by holding placards saying: “Stop Israeli War Crimes.” The activists urged the councillors to discuss the new waste contract in a public debate, reports the Canterbury Times.

Despite this, the councilors decided to discuss the £4.6 million (US$ 7 million) a year contract behind closed doors, according to the Canterbury Times. The council executive committee agreed to appoint Veolia as the preferred contractor and Larissa Laing, the council head of neighborhood services, said Veolia would accept the city council’s waste and recycling as part of a contract with Kent County Council.

However, after the controversy over the plans to use Veolia and following legal advice, the council decided to invite companies to bid for the waste collection contract.

Canterbury Conservative lawmaker lends his support to Bin Veolia campaign

The Bin Veolia group received support from Canterbury’s Conservative Member of Parliament, Julian Brazier. In a letter to Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, he writes:

“My particular concern is Veolia are tendering for Canterbury. I have never taken part in any anti-Israeli boycott but Veolia have been intimately involved in highly illegal activities in the occupied territories. I appreciate that we are hemmed in by EU legislation but it seems to me monstrous that laws in this country should forbid councils from taking into account, should they choose to do so, breaches of the law which have taken place outside the EU.”

Veolia called for a meeting between Veolia, Brazier and members of his consituency to discuss the situation late last month.

Former Bishop of Dover calls for a boycott of Veolia

Meanwhile, the Bin Veolia group in the Canterbury area collected more than a thousand signatories for a petition calling on the council to reject any bid from Veolia because it benefits from Israel’s illegal occupation. The petition was presented to the council at a meeting Canterbury’s Guildhall early May, Diane Langford told me this week. The hall was fully packed with protestors when Langford urged the council “to respect the fact that your constituents don’t want their council tax spent on supporting the illegal and cruel dispossession of the Palestinian people. We want Veolia out of Canterbury, out of Kent and out of Palestine.” (Langford sent me a copy of her speech.)

The Liberal Democrat opposition supported the demand of the protestors by comparing the situation to boycotts of apartheid South Africa, reported the Canterbury Times.

Richard Llewellin, former Bishop of Dover and curate at Johannesburg Cathedral during the height of apartheid, addressed the council meeting as a citizen of the area. The Bin Veolia group sent a copy of his speech in which he reminded the council that over half a million Jewish Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank. Many of these settlements are linked by new bypass roads cutting through more Palestinian land, and on which Palestinians are not allowed to travel.

Llewellyn said “It is not in the least bit of an exaggeration to describe the situation in occupied Palestine as a situation of increasing apartheid. He highlighted Veolia’s role in the Jerusalem light railway, “a modern tramway through the streets of Palestinian East Jerusalem, linking a number of these illegal Israeli settlements. That is the whole purpose of this new tramway.”

He added, “A significant factor in bringing apartheid to an end in South Africa was the increasing involvement of ordinary people throughout the world in protest and boycott. Ordinary folk like you and me, rather than our political masters, led the way. I respectfully submit to members of this Council that it should not even be considering a contract with Veolia because of its involvement with a government – the Israeli government – which has consistently flouted international law to which it has itself subscribed. We as a city should be boycotting Veolia.”

Veolia attempts to evade responsibility

In response to the calls to not accept any bid from Veolia, Canterbury Conservative councilor John Gilbey argued that Veolia subsidiaries in the UK could not be held accountable for misconduct of Veolia subsidiaries in Israel. Gibley told the council that “The argument that companies in the group are so closely linked as to suggest the alleged misconduct of a company in Israel amounts to other companies in the UK committing an act of grave misconduct in the course of business, must be queried,” according to the Canterbury Times.

However, activists in the international Derail Veolia Campaign argue that Veolia is a multinational company that operates as a single entity. The conduct of one part of the company cannot be viewed in isolation from the activities of other parts of the company. The details are presented in a legal briefing note prepared by Hickman & Rose Solicitors.

Robert Hunt, Executive Director of Veolia Environmental Services in the United Kingdom, provided clarity in the 24 May meeting with MP Brazier and his constituency. Diane Langford, who attended the meeting, said that Robert Hunt confirmed that Veolia Environnement was a single entity operating as four divisions. “I am not here to mislead you. Of course, Veolia is a unified company,” said Hunt, according to Langford.

The Canterbury and Whitstable Bin Veolia Group will continue its campaign to keep Veolia out of the area. The fact that Veolia is a single entity means that Veolia subsidiaries in the UK can be held accountable for the misconduct in the occupied West Bank by Veolia subsidiaries in Israel.