The Camden Green Fair and Bikefest, held to coincide with the World Environment Day, advertises itself as aiming to “inspire Londoners to help make their capital a world-class green city, letting visitors find out about the huge and growing number of sustainable companies, products, campaigns, and lifestyle choices that are available to us all.”
In 2008, the Camden Green Fair was sponsored by Veolia Environmental Services. The French multinational’s website boasts that “Veolia Environmental Services has firmly established itself as the United Kingdom’s leading waste management provider.” The company further affirms its commitment to operating in a “responsible and sustainable manner.” Veolia’s track record, however, does not sit well with the ethical lifestyle promoted by the Green Fair organisers. Veolia, together with Alstom, holds the contract for the construction of a tram system built on occupied Palestinian territory, linking West Jerusalem with illegal settlements including Pisgat Ze’ev, the French Hill settlements, Gilo and Neve Ya’akov. According to Israeli authorities, the rail infrastructure will also help link Ma’leh Adumim and the Jordan Valley settlements to Jerusalem.
Veolia claims the Jerusalem light rail project “benefits and in no way discriminates against Palestinian people.” However, the settlements and settlement building are illegal under international law; they are in breach of the Geneva Convention, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Hague Regulations. Thus, Veolia’s involvement in a construction project building infrastructure on illegally occupied territory is helping to tighten Israel’s grip on more and more land in the West Bank.
The tramline will be inaccessible to Palestinians who live next to it, such as the residents of Shuafat refugee camp, who are separated from the tramline by concrete walls. Back in 2006, Connex was forced to cancel plans to train Israeli engineers and drivers on Dublin’s Luas light railway after the Irish tram drivers union, SIPTU, refused to participate. Later that year, following a sustained campaign by Dutch NGO Civilians for Peace, the ASN bank in Holland divested its shares in Veolia stating, “We believe that Veolia’s involvement in the light rail project is not in line with the UN’s demand to stop all support for Israel’s settlement activities.” Veolia has also been the subject of legal action in France. Two years ago, Association France-Palestine Solidarité filed a complaint against Alstom and Veolia Environnement, which responded by arguing that French courts had no jurisdiction to rule on their business dealings abroad. In April 2009, however, the Nanterre court ruled that they did have jurisdiction and the case would go ahead.
A recent letter from Daniel Machover of the British group Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights to a local London council argued that Veolia’s involvement in the Jerusalem light rail project involves “grave misconduct” because it assists Israel in its violation of international law. Campaigners realise that Veolia is vulnerable to pressure as it relies on large government contracts and local authorities are able to exclude companies from tendering for contracts if there is evidence of grave misconduct.
Veolia has numerous local government contracts across the UK and the rest of Europe for recycling services, waste management and incinerators. Often these contracts are worth millions of pounds and last for decades. An international campaign against Veolia, called Derail Veolia, has succeeded in losing the company contracts worth several million pounds. Local authorities in Stockholm, Oslo, Bordeaux and Sandwell in Birmingham have all been persuaded by campaigners not to grant Veolia any new contracts or renew existing ones. Campaigners in Hampshire, Camden, Lambeth, Liverpool, Hastings and Portsmouth are currently pressuring their local councils to exclude Veolia from local contracts. Galway County Council has recently voted unanimously to adopt a motion calling on the County Manager not to sign or renew any contracts with Veolia. Sligo County Council has also adopted a similar motion. But despite this, Galway director of transportation and infrastructure, Ciaran Hayes, has chosen to ignore the motion and award Veolia the contract. Protests against Veolia have not only been over the company’s involvement in Israeli settlement building, however. In Sussex, a local campaign has recently been set up to stop Veolia building a waste incinerator at Newhaven.
Campaigners see the construction of the incinerator as environmentally destructive and a direct attack on public health. Last year campaigners occupied cranes at the site of the incinerator in protest at the commencement of construction. There are over 100 incinerators planned across the UK. Veolia holds contracts to build many of them and is tendering for many more. Veolia also owns Onyx, which was the subject of bitter strikes in Sussex over pay and the wrongful dismissal of refuse collectors. Veolia and its subsidiary Veloway have now tendered to run the Transport for London Cycle Hire scheme. Campaigners are pressuring TfL and mayor Boris Johnson to exclude them from the tendering. In a further greenwashing move, Veolia has just signed a contract with the University of Birmingham to work together to “promote environmental research, innovation and sustainable development in areas such as carbon savings and energy efficiencies.” Veolia also issued a press release boasting that the company was part of the Prince’s May Day Network, a group of businesses “committed to taking action on climate change.” Along with McDonalds, the Network is sponsoring an initiative called Capital Clean Up, which is apparently aimed at “urging Londoners to clean up their city.” The Derail Veolia campaign is an example of grassroots campaigning successfully challenging a profit-driven multinational corporation. Veolia’s lost contracts are estimated to have cost it $7.5 billion. Veolia has every reason, therefore, to try and greenwash its image. As part of its revamped News Updates, CW has recently produced extensive profiles of companies complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, from arms manufacturers to supermarkets selling illegal settlement produce.
The briefings can be found on the Corporate Watch website: