The University of Sheffield has decided not to renew its waste collection contract with multinational corporation Veolia following a campaign initiated by the campus Palestine Society and supported by the student union. The campaign called on the university to cut ties with the company over its contracts with the Israeli state to provide waste and transport services to illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Sheffield Student Union voted to support boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns by a large majority in a referendum held in October, and the student union and other campus groups actively supported the campaign against Veolia.
In a statement released last night, Sheffield University Palestine Society said:
This comes after a year of concerted action and protest by the Palestine Society and the wider student body against the presence of Veolia on campus, as part of the Students’ Union’s campaign of Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against perpetrators of war crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories …
… By passing it as official union policy it was possible to send a much stronger message to the university: that the student body as a whole does not want to incentivise companies, like Veolia, who suffer from such an abject lack of moral compass. Following the policy’s success in the October vote, we have worked with various groups to lobby and pressure the university into taking notice of the student voice. This has included an open letter signed by the Palestine Society and other campaigning groups, demonstrations on the concourse, letters from human rights groups in Palestine, Israel, and beyond, and direct lobbying from the sabbatical officers.
It is enormously gratifying that university management appears to have been responsive to the concerns both of ourselves and of the wider student body …
In the weeks following the passing of the BDS resolution and the start of the campaign against the Veolia contract, the university decided not to invoke a clause in its contract with the company that would have renewed the deal for a further year and would instead put the deal out to tender. The waste management contract has now been awarded to one of Veolia’s competitors. This is believed to be the first time that a university anywhere in the world has cut ties to Veolia following a student campaign.
Campus solidarity spreading
The victory at Sheffield caps a hugely successful academic year for the student movement for Palestine in the UK.
In February, Israeli deputy ambassador to the UK Alon Roth-Snir was forced to abandon a talk at the University of Essex by student protests. A talk by Roth-Snir at the University of Birmingham was severely disrupted.
The Dundee University Student Association voted in February to terminate its contract with G4S due to the role the British-Danish company plays in providing security equipment and services to Israeli jails at which Palestinian political prisoners are tortured. The We Are All Hana Shalabi student network organized huge demonstrations in Scotland during Israel’s November 2012 attack on Gaza.
In January, students at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen announced that they had succesfully pressured their univesrity to terminate its relationship with Eden Springs, an Israeli water company complicit in the occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights and in Israel’s theft of Palestinian water. Eden Springs water coolers have now been forced off at least seven UK campuses by boycott campaigners.
Student unions support BDS
This academic year has also seen more student unions pass resolutions to support a boycott of Israel.
Last month, students at the University of Sussex voted to renew a policy not to sell Israeli goods in student union shops and to initate a campaign against a contract between the university and Veolia. A huge 72 percent of voters supported the motion to boycott Israeli goods.
Resolutions in support of BDS have also been passed this academic year at Queen Mary’s University of London, University College London, the Wadham College of the University of Oxford and the University of East London. Student unions at more than twenty UK universities now officially support BDS. The University of London Union, the largest single student union in Europe, endorses BDS and the National Union of Students supports the campaigns against Veolia and Eden Springs.
As yesterday’s announcement by Sheffield University shows, using union policy support for BDS as a basis for building effective campaigning by student unions and campus activists can create the pressure required to force universities to end ties with companies profiting from Israeli apartheid.
Organizing for success
More than twenty UK campus groups participated in Israeli Apartheid Week 2013 in late February, hosting events with Palestinian activists Haidar Eid, Abir Kopty, Yafa Jarrar and Rafeef Ziadah and Israeli BDS activist Ronnie Barkan.
Following the success of the week and reflecting a desire by campus activists to develop BDS campaigning and national coordination, student Palestine solidarity groups issued a statement calling for a national student organizing conference for the start of the next academic year in October. Hopefully the conference can help to build campaigns capable of replicating the fantastic success at the University of Sheffield.