For years, the French transnational Veolia has tried to downplay the effect of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns which aim to hold the company to account for its role in the Israeli occupation.
But now a top Norwegian financial advisor has boldly acknowledged the impact of the BDS movement.
Activists in many countries have pressured local authorities, public institutions, socially responsible investors and pension funds to do no business with Veolia as long as it is complicit in Israel’s violations of international law.
In a recent presentation [PDF], Hege Sjo said that “disasters are expensive” for businesses, mentioning Veolia as an example of a company that has experienced “reputational damage as a result of publicity and pending litigation” due to “operations in troubled regions. Involvement in infrastructure project in the occupied territories.”
Sjo underpinned her argument by mentioning Veolia’s alleged loss of a €3.5 billion ($4.6 billion) Swedish metro contracts in January 2009.
Senior financial adviser
It is remarkable that the observation was made by a financial expert who operates in the higher circles of the investment world.
Sjo is a senior adviser to the principle manager of the largest pension fund in the the UK, Hermes Investment Management. She is also director of several publicly listed Norwegian companies. Sjo’s warning is a clear sign to companies that profiting from Israel’s occupation carries serious reputational and financial risks.
Financial watchdog BankTrack arrived at a similar conclusion in 2010 when it classified investments in Veolia as “dodgy” because the company provides public transport to the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. BankTrack is a global network which monitors the effect of operations of commercial banks, investors, insurance companies, pension funds on people and the planet.
Veolia’s role in violations of Palestinian rights was also addressed in a report [PDF] by the recent UN fact finding mission on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The mission clearly stated that private firms have enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements.
The report lists “the provision of transport and other services to support the maintenance of settlements” as a business activity that raises particular concerns about abuses of human rights.
UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk was more explicit in his report to the UN General Assembly. He described Veolia’s role in the Jerusalem light rail project, which is designed to connect West Jerusalem with Israel’s illegal settlements. Falk recommends that civil society “vigorously pursue initiatives to boycott, divest and sanction” the companies such as Veolia, until they bring their policies and practices into line with international laws and standards.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement should continue to hold Veolia to account by increasing the pressure on pension funds, socially responsible investors and other financial institutions to exclude or divest from the company.