VEOLIA AGM: The French Connection
Tuesday, 17 May 2011 – Highlighting the international nature of the campaign against Veolia, ten campaigners from the UK traveled to Paris to join and support French colleagues at the Veolia AGM in the Les Halles area of Paris. The UK delegation was initiated and organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, BNC and London BDS.
Veolia has long been an international target of activists due to their corporate complicity in Israel’s violations of war crimes and international law. The company was awarded the contract to build and maintain the Jerusalem Light Rail project designed to connect the city of Jerusalem with the illegal settlements around it.
Moreover, Veolia operates bus services for Israeli settlers connecting illegal settlements, which is a major obstacle for a lasting and just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. In addition, Veolia owns and operates the Tovlan Landfill in the occupied Jordan Valley using stolen Palestinian land and natural resources for the benefit of Israeli settlers.
Veolia’s subsidiary, Connex, operates bus services to Israeli settlements in the West Bank along Highway 443 which is an apartheid road. Highway 443 was built on expropriated Palestinian land and has been unavailable to Palestinian use, despite a ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court. Israel later opened the route for Palestinians in May 2010, but they are not allowed to access neither Jerusalem nor Ramallah.
In the UK, Veolia has lost contracts worth billions due to the efforts of BDS campaigners.
French activists said that they were “very impressed” by the successful actions carried out and were amazed by the activity of activists in the UK. Unlike in Britain, most BDS activists in France are forced to campaign for the boycott of settlement goods only, due to the strict French race-hate laws.
In the courtyard outside of the Louvre, activists observed an interesting structure being built. According to the signage displayed, stones were collected from houses in Bethlehem, Galilee, Hebron and the area between Israel and Syria that fell into ruins. The concrete bags displayed Hebrew wording and one of the companies involved in the project was an Israeli company called Tuff (www.tuff.co.il).
After interviewing, filming and photographing each other, the joint campaign numbering approx thirty-five BDS campaigners formed a tide of activity leafleted and talked to delegates directly outside the entrance to the AGM that took place inside the Carrousel du Louvre, a posh indoor shopping complex.
Despite being restrained by security guards when activists attempted to unfurl a banner and a photographer who was manhandled when attempting to video the action, no effort was made to evict the activists who carried placards that read “Veolia, Obey the Law” and “Veolia violates rights and disobeys international law – disinvest from Veolia.”
The majority of the delegates accepted the flyers with a cheerful “merci” and the action continued until the AGM started.
Inside the AGM, BDS campaigners – those who had purchased shares – asked questions of the chairman about Veolia’s complicity in Israel’s illegal Occupation. Antoine Frérot, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Veolia Environment looked clearly uncomfortable when, out of a total of fourteen questions asked, six came from BDS campaigners – some of which included asking if Veolia planned to pull out from the West Bank and how much in profits were lost due to Veolia’s activities providing services to Israeli settlements.
Despite interruptions by board members and the microphone being abruptly cut off, activists were successful in getting out the message that Veolia’s activities are “illegal, immoral and bad for shares” as evidenced by the applause of many shareholders.
During lunch at a nearby cafe, experiences were exchanged, successes were shared and the groundwork was laid for future joint work.
There can be no doubt among Veolia management and its shareholders as a result of this, and all the other actions by campaigners across the world, that Veolia’s reputation and brand is under a concerted attack by the global BDS movement.