PRESS RELEASE 12.5.2014
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) Finland welcomes the Helsinki city council decision to continue assessing whether Veolia should be excluded from bidding.
Helsinki city council member Yrjö Hakanen (Finnish Communist Party) had on January 29 2014 submitted a motion not to make any new contracts with Veolia and to end existing contracts insofar possible. The reason was the complicity of Veolia in the operation of Israel’s illegal settlements. The motion referred to EU directive 2004/18/EC, according to which it is possible to exclude from bidding economical operators that have committed grave misconduct. In addition to Hakanen, the motion was signed by 12 other city council members, from the Green League, Left Alliance and the Social Democratic Party.
Helsinki Regional Transport (HRT) gave a statement about the motion, and based partly on that statement the Helsinki city board proposed to reject the motion. One of the main reasons was that the branches of Veolia that operate in Finland and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories were considered to be separate entities.
After discussion in the city council on May 7, the council however decided to return the motion for further evaluation, by a vote of 44-37. In addition to Yrjö Hakanen, all city council members from the Green League, Left Alliance and the Social Democratic Party voted in favour. Nina Huru and Mika Raatikainen from The Finns party also voted in favour, unlike other council members of their party. There were also two empty votes, from Hennariikka Andersson (National Coalition) and Laura Kolbe (Centre Party), in contrast to all other council members from their parties.
The motion was inspired by the report “Suora tie miehitykseen” (“Straight route to the occupation”), published by ICAHD Finland in December 2013, that deals with Veolia’s complicity in Israel’s illegal settlements. Veolia has a share in the Jerusalem Light Rail Train project that connects settlements to Israel, and it also owns and administers the Tovlan landfill on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where waste from Israel and illegal settlements is dumped.
ICAHD Finland considers the vote to continue evaluating the motion to be a responsible decision. According to ICAHD Finland chair Bruno Jäntti “This is an important first step. By continuing to evaluate the motion the Helsinki city council shows that it takes its ethical responsibilities seriously. The complicity of Veolia in violations of international law is a grave matter indeed.”
The Finnish branch of Veolia, Veolia Transport Finland, has also commented on the decision. The acting CEO of Veolia, Päivi Katajisto, has said that the Finnish branch does not have the possibility to affect the decisions made by the “mother company” and repeated earlier statements by Veolia, according to which “The railway benefits all residents of the region, and passengers are not discriminated in it. All willing passengers can come aboard from all stops.”
The grounds set forth by the city board as well as Veolia’s answer are both misleading. Israel’s settlement policy violates international law according to the International Court of Justice, the UN, the EU as well as the Finnish government. The UN Human Rights Council has section 5 (g) of resolution A/HRS/13/7 in 2010 specifically condemned the railway project as being “in clear violation of international law and relevant United Nations resolutions”. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, has in September 2012 mentioned Veolia as an example of a corporation that that should be boycotted by civil society in different countries in their own national contexts until it ends its complicity in human rights violations.
As far as Veolia’s participation in the Tovlan landfill is concerned, the UN general assembly has in 2009 called for Israel to stop dumping waste on the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The claim by the Finnish branch of Veolia, that the railway benefits all residents of the area, is in contradiction not only with the stand of the UN Human Rights Council, but also with the position of the Palestinian residents of the area. Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, which represents 25 Palestinian organisations has sent a letter in support of ICAHD Finland’s report. In the letter the Coalition emphasises that it makes no difference whether Palestinians are in principle allowed to use the trams, because their routes have been planned to connect settlements, meant solely for Israeli Jews, to Israel. Furthermore, Palestinian property has been confiscated and destroyed to make way for the railway. Also, the largest Palestinian civil society umbrella organisation, the BDS National Committee (BNC) has called for boycott of Veolia, among other companies. BNC’s general boycott call has been signed by over 170 Palestinian organisations, including all Palestinian political parties and trade unions.
By repeating misleading justifications for Veolia’s activities, put forth by Veolia in different countries, the Finnish branch has aligned itself with the international line of Veolia, against the views of the UN and Palestinian civil society. This is not surprising, because Veolia is unified whole.
In the city board proposal it was claimed that in order for ‘grave misconduct’ to be valid as a criterion for exclusion, a leading member of the Finnish branch of Veolia would have to had been guilty of it. This is not true. The EU directive 2004/18/EC mentioned in the motion of Yrjö Hakanen, and in ICAHD Finland’s report, refers to grave misconduct by an “economic operator”, in this case Veolia.
On the pages of Veolia Transport Finland there is a link to the international pages of Transdev (Veolia owns 50% of Transdev). Veolia Transport Finland is part of Transdev, and according to the webpages of Transdev, the company is an integrated whole, which operates in different countries. Transdec puts particular emphasis on the fact that the tight integration between branches (e.g. purchasing buses, spare parts and fuel in a centralised manner) helps the company to make better offers. Veolia administers and reports on all of its branches as a single entity.
ICAHD Finland hopes that on the second evaluation round the board of HRT and the Helsinki city board will take these facts into account. The Finnish Foreign Ministry is also due to come out with a report on doing business in the illegal settlements, which will surely also be taken into account.
Syksy Räsänen (board member of ICAHD Finland)
045 635 7214
ICAHD Finland’s report “Suora tie miehitykseen” (in Finnish)
Letter from the Palestinian Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem to the board of HRT and the city councils of the capital area
Letter from the WhoProfits project (run by the Israeli organisation Coalition of Women for Peace), which tracks companies profiting from the occupation, to the board of HRT and the city councils of the capital area
An opinion paper on Veolia’s activities in light of international law by Jeff Handmaker (International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University) and Mr. Phon van den Biesen, Attorney (Van den Biesen Kloostra Advocaten)
ICAHD is an Israeli human rights organisation founded in 1997 that aims to end the Israeli occupation and apartheid. ICAHD had special consultative status in the UN ECOSOC, and its chair Jeff Halper has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In addition to Israel, the organisation has brances in Australia, Finland, Germany, Norway, United Kingdom and the United States.
ICAHD Finland is the autonomous Finnish branch of ICAHD, founded in 2009.