Today, Veolia would call itself the white knight finally bringing water to the poor Indians, in the name of the “right to water” and the “Millennium Development Goals.” But behind this revamping of water privatization the same reality prevails: a reality comprised of financial opacity, incredible promises left unfulfilled, price increases of water, social conflicts, and the private monopolisation of public funds. New methods of “social business” continue to hide the same goal: get the poor used to have to pay more for their water.
In 2012, Veolia proudly announced its first global privatisation contract for water in India, in the city of Nagpur (2.5 million inhabitants). And just a few months later, the group invited a delegation of French journalists to come celebrate its “success.” But alas, at that same moment, the complaints had already started to pile up against the private operator, due to delays in work and ill-treatment by some of its local officials. Today, the private management is a financial pit. Large sums of money have been “spent” there without actually improving the situation. Riots have taken place in certain areas against the Veolia officials, and litigious proceedings by the local authority against the private operator have been announced.
Wherever the French water industry giant happens to be, such as in Delhi or in the Karnataka area, the same complaints arise: vague contracts favouring private businesses, increases in prices, and diversion of water from the public sphere to profit the areas under private management...
Official publicity presents India as a new El Dorado which will allow the French multinational water companies to conquer new markets all while tending to its own image. In reality, with the wave of “public-private partnerships,” what is happening is the pillaging of public funds where access to water for the poorest is only a small margin of importance.
For more information:
- Observatoire des multinationales, « Veolia en Inde : le retour des vieux démons ?
- Focus on the Global South, « Report Conference on Water Privatization: Learning from India and International Experiences »
- Down to Earth, « Nagpur Municipality Proposes Action Against Private supplier »
- Outlook India, « Not Worth the Parchment ».
Download Veolia's response (in French).
Photo credits : waterdotorg
Coal in South Africa, oil in Kazakhstan, tar sands in Canada, gas in Australia, bauxite in India, etc.: for Société Générale, these resources are all valuable and worth being exploited, despite greenhouse gas emissions and their resultant environmental and social impacts.
Société Générale is now leading feasibility and impact studies on the collection of the 11 billion euros necessary for an enormous coal mining project in Australia across from the Great Barrier Reef: Alpha Coal.
With a surface area of 64,769 hectares, or 75,508 football stadiums, this colossal open-pit mine would destroy 20,618 hectares of humid tropical forests and pastures and threaten the hundreds of species living there.
Exporting the coal would require a 495 kilometres railway line to be built to the Abbot Point port terminal. 47 kilometres of navigable pathways would then have to be rerouted and two bodies of water, as well as a lagoon, would have to be dried. This would add to the 176 billion litres of water, or 70,400 Olympic swimming pools, that the mine would use at the risk of dramatically decreasing the underground water levels on which the population and local agriculture depends.
The climate would not be spared either. Over 30 years, the exploitation, transportation, and combustion of the coal would emit more than 1.8 billion tonnes of CO2, more than the total annual emissions of Finland, Hungary, or Singapore.
The bleak picture does not end here. The Great Barrier Reef and the multiple threatened species it houses will not be able to withstand the dangerous climate change nor the port expansion and growth of maritime transportation. UNESCO is already sounding the alarm and threatening to register this global heritage site on its list of sites in danger.
For more information:
- Profile of « Alpha Coal » dodgy deal on BankTrack's website.
Argentina, its tango, meat, wilderness, and… its shale gas? As the third country worldwide in terms of exploitable unconventional hydrocarbon stocks, Argentina has become the Promised Land for gas companies! Among them, Total operates several permits for tight gas and shale gas, up until a protected reserve in Patagonia.
After discovering large shale gas and oil reserves at the end of 2010, the Argentinean government has renationalised the gas company YPF, and opened the doors to the global giants of this sector: Total, Chevron, Shell. etc. Since then, mobilisation of civil society has only increased, with intimidation and suppression as the only response. At no point were the populations consulted, not even the indigenous Mapuche communities on whose lands many projects are found (1).
As the second largest gas operator of the country, Total quickly jumped on these resources proudly announcing in January 2011 the acquisition of the first six permits for shale gas in the Neuquén province in Patagonia. Nothing more natural for the oil group which states that “innovating to conquer frontier resources (...) has always been a pillar of [its] strategy,” and is thus “involved in all sorts of unconventional gas” (2).
Among these projects, the very controversial Pampa las Yeguas II is in the provincial reserve Auca Mahuida, an area protected for its wildlife (more than 100 species, such as the guanaco, the rhea, and the puma) and its plant life (14 species are endemic).
Park rangers have announced their opposition to the permit’s passing and the use of hydraulic fracturing. They emphasize that it is “contradictory that the business which carries out this activity (Total Austral) comes from France where this activity is illegal because of the serious damages it causes to the environment and human health” (3). Invasive infrastructures, water pollution, methane gas leaks, and risks of cancer are the motivation of the local populations’ opposition to this project that threatens their traditional farming ways.
During an inspection, the Secretary of Environment observed several irregularities. Moreover, a complaint had been filed against the project (4). But nothing seems to slow down Total’s ambitions in this coveted country: the company has just anounced an investment of 400 US$ to launch two pilot projects in Aguada Pichana, in the famous Vaca Muerta field.
For more information:
- (1) « Anti-fracking mobilization suppressed and indigenous houses burnt due to resistance over Chevron-YPF agreement », press release from Observatorio Petrolero Sur
- (2) Total's press release, January 14th, 2011 and Total's investments in unconventional gas worldwide (official website).
- (3) Day of mobilization organized by workers from Auca Mahuida in March 2013, « Safari contra el fracking en Auca Mahuida » :video clipStatement from the workers of ATE trade union, from the Protected Natural Areas Division of the Neuquén province.
URÊKA (1), a new museum dedicated to the "adventure" of Uranium, has just opened in Bessines, a town in Haute-Vienne department in the Limousin region of western France. "The era of French uranium began in Limousin in 1948. It's an adventure story that is far from over...” Just like the irreversible contamination of 230 French mining sites...and the devastation of many other areas by Areva worldwide.
So whilst Areva celebrates the opening of its new amusement park, the memories left by the company are far from rosy: in Limousin, more than 60 abandoned mines are polluting springs, rivers and ground water. Despite efforts to "landscape" the area, the traces left by the industry remain. UREKA is based in Bessines, where with the storage of more than 200 000 tons of depleted uranium and other radioactive substances, would deserve classification as a nuclear facility.
In the museum, the film " Once upon a time there was Uranium" presents the history of uranium, rewritten by Areva. The picture it paints is far from the reality that was experienced by local inhabitants (2).
" Wander around the rehabilitated sites" suggests the museum, whilst keeping quiet about the consequences of uranium extraction on human health and the environment, water pollution and radon gas emissions...
The museum celebrates the mine workers, whose health was allegedly monitored during their working lives. And after? Let's not forget that an excess of deaths due to lung and kidney cancer was "discovered" in a cohort of former miners (3).
UREKA also invites the visitor to "explore uranium today" and to admire "worldwide current events in minerals": 120 mining exploration permits in Aboriginal lands in Australia, 139 permits and mining sites in Niger (4)...yet no mention of the consequences of 40 years of extraction: destruction of fauna and flora, contamination of water, exhaustion of water sources, a people excluded from their own territory and deprived of their traditional way of life...
A fate which may fall upon Nunavut, an Inuit territory in the Canadian Arctic, where AREVA also hopes to be based (5). Such a project would be a disaster for this territory, already extremely fragile as a result of climate change, with pollution to the ground and watercourses, disruption to hunting grounds (Inuit culture is closely linked to caribou hunting) and the opening up of other mines in these lands.
But perhaps AREVA will open up another museum once this territory has been destroyed too?
For more information:
- (1) Urêka « le musée interactif de la mine », official website.
- (2) « Uranium en Limousin », a film by Thierry Lamireau.
- (5) Petition « Après l’Afrique, Areva s’en prend aux Inuit : je dis non ! ».
BNP Paribas looks after its image. This year it has led a PR offensive to justify its ‘Responsible Bank’ slogan. Its foundation finances research on climate change, for example. This initiative was promoted in a flurry of publicity, such as this poster splashed across the media and displayed in its branches throughout France. This is funny given that it is the most climate killer French bank in the world, which continues to finance fossil fuels on all four corners of the Earth!
Great public discussion with leading figures, the launch of four thematic think tanks, a communication campaign, a participatory website and the utilisation of social networks : BNP Paribas has pulled out the heavy artillery in 2013 to promote its ‘new commitment as a responsible bank’.
The BNP Paribas Foundation’s charity work has been put forward at the environmental plan. BNP Paribas has also either organised or financed large climate change conferences.
A handsome poster campaign which attempts to conceal a well-hidden reality: BNP Paribas continues to finance the worst climate killer projects across the world, which specifically contribute towards the climate change which it is helping to research! What's more, the recently adopted sectoral policies, supposed to guide investments according to social and environmental criteria, will make little difference.
Indeed, BNP Paribas is the 8th most climate killer bank in the world, number 1 in France, according to the ranking published in the 2011 “Bankrolling Climate Change” report by the BankTrack network . It is heavily involved in the financing of the most polluting industry, the coal industry, to which it has contributed over 10 billion Euros since 2005.
BNP Paribas had already ranked first of the first carbon ranking of French banks, published in 2010 . With 1360 millions of tonnes of CO2 financed by its activities in 2009, BNP Paribas is more pollutant than Shell! This is remarkable for a bank which intends to ‘combating climate change’.
For more information :
-  Bankrolling Climate Change, BankTrack report
To combat climate change, Air France finances the HCPF (1), a project aimed at fighting deforestation in Madagascar. In theory this project should contribute to preserving biodiversity, stocking CO2 emissions and also helping towards "sustainable human development". However, for villagers living nearby, the reality is quite the opposite: access to land is from now on restricted and controlled.
Currently, greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry represent 2-3% of global emissions. But this figure could quadruple by 2050. So far, the European aviation industry has not been required to reduce its impact on climate. However, pressure is increasing! In response, the airline companies have proposed to create their own carbon market, which would allow them to offset their emissions, rather than reduce them.
How does this relate to the project to fight against deforestation in Madagascar? Officially, not at all: originally presented as an "environmental solidarity programme", the HCPF, carried on in Madagascar by GoodPlanet and WWF Madagascar, aimed mainly to "advance scientific knowledge of forest carbon". In 2010, Air France made a clear and unequivocal statement that it was by no means a programme of carbon offsetting.
Two and a half years later, the programme has been revealed for what it really is: Air France acknowledges that the project will generate carbon credits... but insists that it will not make any profit from the programme and that all the money will go to local communities.
Totally untrue! The development of the HCPF takes away entire forest areas from local populations, displaced and that see their means of subsistence reduced. So that a small minority can continue to pollute the planet, we require the world's poorest people to change their way of life: forests and land are no longer natural areas but have become stocks of carbon that must be protected.
Worse, to keep an eye on fraudsters, a forest police has been set up: its mission is to track down villagers who clear patches of forest to grow food to feed themselves. Anybody caught in the act risks a heavy fine. If the individual is unable to pay, they are sent to prison. And as if patrols on the ground were not enough, aeroplanes fly above the villages to keep a better eye on them!
This is surely what Air France means when the company says it wishes to make the sky the most beautiful place on Earth.
(1) The Holistic Conservation Programme for Forests in Madagascar (HCPF)
For more information:
- Article and video by Basta: “Avec Air France, compenser les émissions carbone des riches peut nuire gravement à la santé des pauvres” available online.
- Report by Les Amis de la Terre France and Basta, REDD+ à Madagascar : le carbone qui cache la forêt, July 2013.
Photo credits: Sophie Chapelle/Basta !
On the 24th of April this year, the Rana Plaza which housed five garment factories collapsed, leaving 1,133 garment workers dead and even more injured. The victims produced garments for Western firms, including Auchan. Six months after the disaster, the firm is still refusing to contribute towards a compensation scheme. This recent tragedy has once again shed light on the criminal negligence of multinationals regarding the terrible working conditions in which our clothes are produced abroad.
Whilst unparalleled in terms of the scale, the disaster of the Rana Plaza is sadly not a unique case. Blocked or non-existent emergency exits, faulty electrical installations, workshops built on non-constructible land or not intended for industrial purposes, despite countless warnings from civil society in recent years, more than a thousand factory workers have died in accidents resulting from the appalling state of workshops.
Following the Rana Plaza tragedy, a French petition with nearly 100,000 signatures (1) enabled to make 89 firms sign the Bangladesh Building and Fire Safety Accord, a binding agreement developed by local Trade Unions. Auchan, as well as Carrefour and Camaïeu signed this agreement. But the victims are still awaiting compensation.
Auchan has acknowledged that part of its production has been informally subcontracted by one of its suppliers in Bangladesh to one of the Rana Plaza factories. However, it does not intend either to call into question its sourcing practices or assume its responsibility in the matter, as this would require participation in the compensation fund. Auchan only responded by announcing a tightening of the controls on its supply chain and in particular of "unauthorized subcontracting", which it claims to have been made a victim (2).
This is an unacceptable announcement from the French firm: these incidences of subcontracting and appalling working conditions are nothing but the logical consequence of the cost pressure exerted by contracting companies, such as Auchan.
Meetings were held this September in Geneva (3) and the process is more or less moving forward: On behalf of French companies, Camaïeu and a dozen other firms took part and committed to pay compensation. By contrast, Auchan was conspicuous by its absence,...and the victims and their familiesstill have to wait before they can once more resume living out their lives in dignity.
For more information:
- (1) Appel Urgent de Peuples Solidaires/Ethique sur l’étiquette, initiated at the request of partner organisations in Bangladesh (Trade Unions and NGOs: NGWF, BCWS etc.).
List of brands sourcing from Rana Plaza.
Photo credit: Gordon Welters
Following revelations about the shocking social and environmental costs of tin mining on the Indonesian island of Bangka, Apple, whose smartphones use this metal, is the only giant of the electronics industry refusing to take responsibility for its involvement.
Samsung, Philips, Nokia, Sony, BlackBerry, Motorola and LG have all recognised their responsibility and have committed to finding solutions to better control their supply chains. Yet Apple continues to refuse to say whether the tin in its iphones comes from Bangka island.
A culture of secrecy or difficulty accounting for the supply chain?
Apple has long sought to cultivate a positive image of responsible company. However, merely updating its website regarding the responsibility of its suppliers is far from enough.
The situation is nonetheless simple: almost half of the global supply of tin is used in the electronics industry for soldering, with 30% of the tin produced in the world coming from Indonesia. The high demand for metals carried along by the popularity of high-tech products encourages the development of illegal mines. Tin mining on Bangka island is responsible for the destruction of 65% of the island's forests and for the loss of more than 70% of its coral reefs, as well as the deaths of sixty mine workers in 2012. What is more, fifteen rivers have been contaminated by mining waste and access to safe drinking water has become difficult for more than half the population.
The Bangka mines are not an isolated case. For many years, the exploitation of coltan, one of the forty metals making up our mobile phones, has partly financed the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Low collection and recycling rates of our old devices, the race for innovation, the sharp increase in products like smartphones and tablets, as well as the short lifespan of such devices pushes manufacturers towards seeking new resources and to closing their eyes to the social conditions and environmental cost of their extraction.
A few greenwashing operations enable the devastating environmental impacts of the high-tech industry to go unnoticed, making it a sector which is everything but "green".
For more information:
- Friends of the Earth, Mining for smartphone : the true cost of tin, November 2012.
- The true cost of our Smartphones: www.dessousdelahightech.org
Photo credits: Ulet Ifansasti/Friends of the Earth
The French company Alstom is involved in a number of large and damaging dams around the world, including the Belo Monte and Rio Madeira dams situated in the Brazilian Amazon.
Alstom is playing a key role in the frenetic development of large dams in the Amazon. The company is directly involved in two of the most symbolic projects, the Belo Monte dam and the Rio Madeira dams. These vast construction sites have captured news headlines across the world owing to the huge social and environmental cost of the projects and also the resistance of the indigenous peoples directly affected.
The government and Brazilian industrial interests, supported by foreign companies such as Alstom and GDF Suez (developer of the Jirau dam on the Rio Madeira), have done much to impose these destructive mega-projects. Impact assessments were deliberately minimized, national and international law ignored and security forces were deployed to protect the construction sites from indigenous resistance and workers' demands.
But this is nothing out of the ordinary for Alstom, which shares the world market of hydroelectric turbines with Voith Siemens and Andritz, two other companies whose practices are also contested. The company's name is regularly cited in a vast number of controversial projects worldwide: in Sudan (Merowe), in India (Lower Subansiri) and now in Ethiopia (the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project situated on the blue Nile, which is highly condemned by Egypt). In China, where it has been actively involved in the Three Gorges Dam, the French group has recently inaugurated a giant turbine fabrication plant. With the explicit aim of aiding Chinese and foreign developers to begin laying concrete on the vast, and for now unspoilt, rivers of Asia and Africa.
Very often the electricity produced is used to supply mega-mining projects', such as Vale, Alcoa and Anglo-American, in the case of Belo Monte.
Alstom does not intervene directly as a developer or operator of a dam. For this reason, more often than not the company manages to avoid any direct responsibility in the environmental destruction and social disruptions brought about by projects from which the company makes its profit. That the company goes unpunished is even more deplorable given that this multinational is often involved right from the design phase of projects, as was the case for the two Rio Madeira dams.
For more information:
- The Observatoire des multinationales: « De tous les mauvais coups ? Alstom, un groupe français impliqué dans de nombreux barrages controversés »
- Survival International, Alstom participe à la destruction de l’Amazonie et des peuples indigènes.
- About the Belo Monte dam: http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/belo-monte-dam et http://amazonwatch.org/work/belo-monte-dam
- About the Rio Madeira dams: http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/madeira-rive
Photo credits: T. Léaud/Survival