The Palestine Society are delighted that the University of Sheffield’s Accommodation and Campus Services (ACS) have decided not to renew their waste management contract with Veolia Environmental Services. This comes after a year of concerted action and protest by the Palestine Society and the wider student body against the presence of Veolia on campus, as part of the Students’ Union’s campaign of Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against perpetrators of war crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The University of Sheffield Students’ Union is one of the foremost centres of pro-Palestinian student activism, last October becoming the first Russell Group university to endorse the global BDS campaign (http://www.shef.ac.uk/union/you-run-us/policies/current/#israeli), a year after becoming the first university in the country to establish links with a university in Gaza. Both of these policies were passed, by large majority, in referenda open to the whole student body. Given this level of engagement with the Palestinian cause, the presence of a company like Veolia on our campus was simply unacceptable.
Veolia is one of the prime targets for BDS advocates across Europe and Australia because of their involvement in the construction and maintenance of the Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR). The JLR links illegal Israeli settlements to occupied East Jerusalem, helping maintain the settlements and embed them deeper in occupied territory. The tramway has been condemned by 44 governments, including the UK’s, and was declared illegal by the UN in 2010. They also operate bus services on settler only roads between illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, and provide waste management services for many of these settlements, dumping Israeli rubbish on fertile Palestinian farmland. Their involvement in these activities means that Veolia are both complicit in, and direct perpetrators of, breaches of international law.
The waste contract held by Veolia was one of our main motivations for proposing the BDS policy last year. By passing it as official union policy it was possible to send a much stronger message to the university: that the student body as a whole does not want to incentivise companies, like Veolia, who suffer from such an abject lack of moral compass. Following the policy’s success in the October vote, we have worked with various groups to lobby and pressure the university into taking notice of the student voice. This has included an open letter signed by the Palestine Society and other campaigning groups, demonstrations on the concourse, letters from human rights groups in Palestine, Israel, and beyond, and direct lobbying from the sabbatical officers.
It is enormously gratifying that university management appears to have been responsive to the concerns both of ourselves and of the wider student body. It is a testament to the thriving level of student engagement in campaigning and social activism here in Sheffield that we have now added the cessation of relations with Veolia to our list of historic firsts as a university. The hope is now that other student bodies around the country will gain inspiration and draw encouragement from this fantastic news