As you may or may not be aware, there’s been a lot of hullabaloo lately about a possible contract between the St. Louis Water Division and French utility service company Veolia. The St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee started the buzz almost a month ago, and only in the past week as the issue gained local prominence and media attention.
We don’t typically cover local issues at Amnesty International, even though Reggie Clemons is a clear exception. However, the buzz behind this issue, and its importance to some members of our chapter, has prompted this quick analysis of the human rights aspect of government contract on water service consultancy. For additional background on the issue, the Riverfront Times has been doing a great job following the story from the beginning.
What’s the Problem?
The issue with Veolia, according to the PSC, is that Veolia has a horrible record when it comes to labor practices, public resource management, environmental standards, and profiting from Israel’s occupation. It doesn’t sound great, but it also doesn’t
The Human Rights Involved
These human rights come from Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document used as the international standard on human rights. The rights involved in this issue include:
Article 23.1 – Everyone has a right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
Article 25.1 – Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and their right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
To translate into simpler terms, the Veolia contract poses a threat to human rights in St. Louis when you consider Veolia’s record of labor practices, which means that this contract doesn’t necessarily guarantee favorable conditions of work and protection against unemployment (despite Mayor Francis Slay’s reassurances of zero layoffs). The Veolia contract poses a threat in that our quality of water would suffer, which would violate the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being. Although the violations aren’t guaranteed, we shouldn’t wait until they happen (or any human rights violation happens) before we take action to prevent them from happening. This article from the Missouri Coalition for the Environment does a great job outline the environmental and labor problems associated with the company.
Veolia in Israel
In Israel/Palestine, Veolia is involved in a light rail linking illegal Israeli settlements with cities in Israel; operates bus lines through the occupied West Bank on roads that are off-limits to the Palestinians; operates a landfill that dumps Israeli waste on Palestinian land; and operates a waste-water treatment plant in an illegal settlement. All this is in clear violation of international law. Global Exchange has further, and more specific, information regarding Veolia’s involvement in the Israel/Palestine conflict.
What to Do
There’s been lots of recent activity on this because today, the contract was supposed to be on the agenda, but it was removed yesterday afternoon. However, Mayor Slay can put it on the agenda at the last minute (which he did in the December meeting that originally confirmed the contract), where the city will likely vote on the contract if it is put back on the agenda. To protect human rights in the City of St. Louis, please attend today’s meeting! Here are the details:
Meet in the City Hall Rotunda at 1 p.m. for orientation and preparation. If you get there late, you can enter the meeting in Room 200 of City Hall (1200 Market Street) at 2 p.m.
For the latest information, please stay up-to-date by following the St. Louis Dump Veolia Facebook page.