Sunday, 31 July 2011

Veolia and the Unethical Investment Advisory Group

Edward Mason, Secretary to the Ethical Investment Advisory Group
Church House, Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3AZ

31 July 2011

Dear Mr Mason

Thank you for your letter of June 30 explaining why the Ethical Investment Advisory Group does not wish to divest from Veolia. I appreciate you taking the trouble to answer me in such detail. I must however take issue with you in an equally detailed way.

Of course no population should be deprived of investment and development because they live in an area of conflict. I do not call for divestment because Veolia is operating in an area where human rights are breached but because Veolia has facilitated and is facilitating those abuses. (p1, para)

Veolia is facilitating the breaking of the Fourth Geneva Convention (FGC) Article 49 – as you admit in paragraph 4 on page 4 – by building a light railway which links the illegal settlements to each other and to Israel proper. Veolia is profiting from those abuses and, in turn, so is the Church of England. (p2, paras 1,2,3)

Complicity in Israel 's breaches of international law is a clear case of interaction between Veolia's core business operations and conflict dynamics that does great harm (p2, para5).

How can the EIAG possibly be reassured that Veolia’s activities comply with International Law when the settlements themselves are serious and enduring breaches and the tramway facilitates such breaches? (p2, para 10; p3, para 1)

I must say I am surprised to have a recent French case quoted at me. Your group is not bound by French law but we are all bound by International(IL) Law and International Humanitarian Law(IHL)! (p3, blob 1)

As I understand it Nanterre High Court considered whether the IL provisions in question gave rise to “justiciable” rights under French law between private parties. The judgement was that it did not but that does not actually clear Veolia of breaching IL and the decision is currently being appealed. (p3, blob 1)

You cite the need for no discrimination between different groups yet you know that the adverts for the jobs are in Hebrew and demand army service as a condition – both of which exclude Palestinians – most of whom cannot speak much Hebrew, far less read it – and Palestinians are excluded from army service. Moreover, much of the route of the tramway passes through areas where Palestinians are forbidden. (p3, blob 2)

Veolia's support for settlements certainly makes the situation on the ground worse by consolidating and perpetuating their illegal establishment

Veolia has not yet disposed of its interest in the JLRT and has been quite slippery about its moves in the past. I remember we broke out the champagne a few years ago because Veolia seemed to be withdrawing from the JLRT but the move proved premature. (p 4, para 3)

Even if it sells its shares, Veolia will be involved in service and maintenance for several years. Veolia has not admitted to anything unethical about its JLRT involvement and says that it is selling up merely because it was made a good offer. Veolia has announced that it plans to sell Tovlan to an illegal Israeli settlement – not a convincing token of the company’s bona fides. Veolia’s contracts, operations and intentions still amount to complicity in breaches of the FGC – therefore by definition, in war crimes. They should be of deep concern to the EIAG, and the Church of England should not hold shares in Veolia whilst they continue.

The fact that you have “noted” resolution 13/7 of the UN Human Rights Council in April 2010 and that you have “taken this into account” in your engagement is a great puzzle to me You write that the UN HRC expressed grave concern at the decision to establish the tramway between West Jerusalem and a named settlement “which is in clear violation of international law and relevant UN resolutions”. (p 4, para 4)

I do not understand why you want to continue to be invested in this company.

Your predecessor Neville White was a great exponent of engagement, too. He engaged with Caterpillar for years, directly going against the will of General Synod which voted overwhelmingly to divest from a company which supplies armoured bulldozers to the Israeli Defence Forces. These huge bulldozers are used to flatten people’s homes – sometimes when they are still in them. American peace activist Rachel Corrie died under one such. When the EIAG finally decided to divest from Caterpillar, it claimed to have done so on financial and not on moral grounds.

It puzzles me greatly that a body with the word “ethical” in its title and with Jesus Christ as its model can be so set against acting in a moral fashion.

Yours etc,

Georgina White