Statement by the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee on Pending St. Louis City Contract with Veolia Water
We are a diverse group of Palestinians, Israelis, Muslims, Jews, Christians, students, professors, artists, writers, environmental activists, union organizers, bakers, grandparents, and others in St. Louis united by a commitment to a lasting peace in Israel/Palestine based on freedom, justice, and equality, as part of a larger commitment to global justice.
We were shocked to learn about private city negotiations with Veolia Water on a contract to guide cost-cutting for the St. Louis Water Division. Veolia Water – North America is a subsidiary of Veolia Environnement (VE), a Paris-based multinational corporation and the largest water privatization business in the world. It is infamous for poor environmental standards, anti-labor practices, privatizing public resources, mismanagement, corruption, bribery, embezzlement, fraud, and illegal activities in Israel/Palestine. Worldwide, consumers report that Veolia consistently charges high rates, provides poor service, causes staff turnover, discourages water conservation, and fails to implement promised improvements. Its history reveals consistent prioritization of private profit at the expense of the environment and public welfare.
In Israel/Palestine, VE is involved in a myriad of ways with Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestinian land and its systematic ethnic discrimination against the Palestinian people.
VE’s Israeli subsidiary, Veolia Water – Israel, operates a wastewater treatment plant located in an illegal Jewish-only settlement called Modiin Ilit, built on internationally-recognized Palestinian land in the West Bank. The Palestinian owners of the land on which this settlement was built have been violently driven out. Two unarmed Palestinians from Bil’in, a Palestinian village on which Modiin Ilit was built, have been killed by the Israeli army as they protested nonviolently against the ongoing confiscation of their land and resources. Leaders and people of conscience from around the world, including the South African anti-Apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have visited Bil’in to stand in solidarity with the dispossessed villagers, yet Veolia continues to service the settlement and others like it.
An Israeli subsidiary of Veolia Transdev, named Connex – Israel, operates settler buses on segregated roads through the occupied West Bank, including two bus lines that use road 443, which is built partially on confiscated land with portions closed entirely to Palestinians. A separate but unequal Palestinian road system is made up of low grade roads cut by checkpoints and physical barriers restricting Palestinian freedom of movement. Last year, a group of Palestinian Freedom Riders attempted to board buses operating on their own land and were violently removed and arrested. Veolia is not only profiting from segregation in Israel/Palestine; they are enforcing it.
Another VE Israeli subsidiary, Veolia Environmental Services – Israel, supervises, consults for, and operates the Tovlan Landfill in the occupied Jordan Valley, collecting refuse from illegal settlements. Israel renders it almost impossible for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley to gain permits to build homes, toilets, wells, animal pens, or other vital infrastructure for local communities, which has forced almost all Palestinian families out, with those remaining living in dire conditions. Some are left with no alternative but to work on settlements that have taken their families’ land, for pay far below the minimum wage, unable to take bathroom breaks, and denied any rights to unionize. Veolia takes captured Palestinian land and natural resources to service the settlements exploiting or driving out Palestinians.
Finally, VE has also been involved in the construction and operation of a tramway linking illegal settlements in East Jerusalem with Israel. The tramway not only institutionalizes the occupation, but it is a settlement in itself, given that it is settler infrastructure built on occupied land.
UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk recently recommended that Veolia “should be boycotted, until they bring their operations into line with international human rights and humanitarian law and standards.” VE’s immoral practices and extensive profiting from Israel’s illegal discriminatory practices have provoked global outcry and made the company a target for boycott and divestment campaigns around the world — costing it $16 billion to date in lost contracts. Recently, the Friends Fiduciary Corporation, which handles investments for hundreds of U.S. Quaker institutions, divested from VE following advocacy from Palestine solidarity groups. Now, VE is bringing its risky and immoral business to our backyard.
Veolia Water is the U.S. arm of VE. As St. Louisans, we do not feel that our tax dollars and water payments should go toward supporting a company profiting from environmental destruction, unfair labor practices, and the bloodshed of and systematic ethnic discrimination against the Palestinian people.
The St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee stands in solidarity with public workers, water and environmental justice activists, and the Palestinian people threatened by this contract. We call on the Board of Estimate & Appointment not to approve this public contract with Veolia.
Click here for a Veolia Facts Sheet outlining the company’s history in environmentally hazardous activities, anti-labor practices, mismanagement, corruption, bribery, embezzlement, fraud, and failure to make good on promised improvements.
St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace also endorses this statement.