The Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) has netted two new victories against Veolia — the multinational Paris-based corporation that is involved in several Israeli projects in Palestine.
The Kuwait City Municipality has heeded Palestinian and BDS appeals and decided to exclude Veolia from a waste management contract with the city that was valued at $750 million.
Like other member countries of the Arab League, Kuwait formally boycotts Israeli companies and Israeli-made goods. But applying that principle to multinational companies complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestine is inconsistently implemented or enforced.
A press release issued by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) describes the municipal decision as the “the tip of the BDS iceberg in the Arab world.”
In addition to cutting Veolia out of the waste management contract, the municipality ruled to exclude Veolia from “all future projects” in the city, and specifically invoked its illegal projects on Palestinian land. According to the press release, after the municipality voted to boycott Veolia, the company withdrew its tender for expanding an existing wastewater facility that was worth $1.5 billion.
Several months before the decision, both the BNC and Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, had appealed to Kuwait City’s municipality to cancel its work with Veolia.
Last year, Veolia Transdev, a subsidiary of Veolia Environment, announced that it had stopped operating the Modiin bus lines that connected a cluster of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which was confirmed by the Israeli-Palestinian corporate watchdog Who Profits. However, the company still operates the Jerusalem light rail that connects the center of Jerusalem with the surrounding settlements and the Tovlan landfill in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank.
In 2010 Veolia Transdev declared it would sell its share of operations in the light rail, but as of February 2014 it had not, according to Who Profits.
Veolia has been consistently targeted by BDS activists around the globe. The BDS movement claims to have cost the company more than $24 billion in contract losses, in Britain, Sweden, Ireland and the US.
In the US, campaigns against Veolia continue to have the most success where BDS groups work with labor and anti-privatization movements.
On Monday this week, MLK County Labor Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution urging King County, Washington to end all its contracts with Veolia and exclude Veolia from any bidding on future contracts.
The MLK Labor Council is the local branch of the AFL-CIO — the federation of American labor unions — and represents all public and private unions. According to Susan Koppelman, an organizer with Stop Veolia Seattle, the council is a well-respected voice of labor in a county sympathetic to union causes.
While Veolia has been operating in some capacity in King County since 1996, it wasn’t until 2008 that it assumed control over the Metro Access buses — publicly-run buses that provide door-to-door services to people with disabilities.
Before 2008, the buses had been operated by MV Transport, which worked with the Amalgamated Transport Union Local 587. When Veolia took over, it ceased hiring union workers, resulting in many losing their jobs and — for those that remained — a significant reduction in pay and benefits.
Koppelman told The Electronic Intifada that the county awarded Veolia the contract at the lowest point of the financial crisis. “Veolia made an offer that the county couldn’t refuse,” she said.
With Stop Veolia Seattle, Koppelman has analyzed the contract and says that Veolia may not be as cost-effective as it promised, though it did reduce the number of hours devoted to training. “What we’re hearing from users of the Access service is that they can tell the difference between the Veolia and union-represented drivers,” she added.
Stop Veolia Seattle represents a broad coalition of interests — including those that oppose privatizing public services and water — but Koppelman told The Electronic Intifada that a commitment to Palestine and BDS unifies the group’s work.
The language of the resolution passed on 29 September, however, focuses more narrowly on the Veolia’s deleterious impact on the local community, public transportation and workers’ rights. One clause of the resolution does make an oblique reference to the MLK Labor Council’s general commitment to “struggles for social justice and workers’ rights around the world” and Veolia’s violation of “international law and human rights.”
While King County’s contract with Veolia expires in 2018, Stop Veolia Seattle is planning to lobby the nine members of the King County Council with the hope of introducing a resolution that could terminate the contract sooner.