Letter to United Water on SUEZ Global Day of Action - May 13, 2005

May 13, 2005
Anthony J. Harding,
Chief Executive Officer
United Water
200 Old Hook Road
Harrington Park, NJ 07640-1799
Dear Mr. Harding:
Today United Water's parent company, Suez, holds its annual general meeting in Paris, France.  Representatives from social movements around the world are at the meeting protesting the harmful and exploitative projects and policies of Suez. Suez shareholders, taking action in solidarity with affected communities around the world, will directly
challenge the corporation's top executives to end the irresponsible and dangerous actions of this corporation around the world.  In addition to today's events in Paris, there will be peaceful marches and protests in front of the offices of Suez in numerous cities around the world including Buenos Aires, Quito, La Paz, London, Montevideo, Manila, Rome,
Santiago and many others.
Suez and its subsidiaries threaten people's right to water and access to water services.  Here are a few examples of the corporation's actions:

  • When Suez's contracts do not provide the hoped-for returns and when contracted obligations cost more than the corporation wants to pay, Suez burdens governments in developing countries with expensive, cumbersome legal actions and uses these threatening legal actions to pressure governments during contract negotiation processes.
  • Suez "red-lines" poor neighborhoods by negotiating contracts that attempt to avoid water system extensions and rehabilitations to certain areas, thereby denying clean and affordable water to communities.
  • Suez repeatedly signs contracts and then attempts to avoid its contractual obligations to invest in the maintenance and expansion of water systems in developing nations causing environmental contamination and social tensions.
  • Suez does not respect the United Nation's proclamations on the human right to water- for example, cutting off water to low-income families in developing nations who cannot afford to pay – despite proclaiming that "ethical values provide the natural underpinnings of the Group's ideals which are put into practice daily."
  • Suez files lawsuits against developing countries in the World Bank affiliated court furthering the indebtedness of developing nations. Developing nations already saddled with staggering debt cannot afford to subsidize one of the world's largest water corporations.

We, the undersigned, represent many community and national organizations that recognize water as a human right, not an attractive business opportunity.  We join the growing global movement that opposes the private corporate takeover of water and water systems.  We join in solidarity with those shareholders and individuals in Paris that are
challenging your parent corporation to end its life-threatening abuses. We also join in solidarity with those communities that are defending local community control of public water systems.
In 2004, Suez reported a 1.8 billion euro (US$2.42 billion) net profit. Total revenue grew 2.8% to 40.7 billion euros.  The revenue contribution from the South American interests of Suez rose 14.9% to1.96 billion euros during this period.  While Suez executives are
pleased with this financial performance, Suez projects and policies continue to deny people access to clean and affordable water in many countries around the world:
Argentina:  In Buenos Aires and 13 cities in the province of Santa Fe, the contracts of Suez and its subsidiaries cause social turmoil.  In Buenos Aires, citizen groups call for the termination of the contract because Aguas Argentinas (major shareholder Suez) refuses to make the promised investment to expand the infrastructure.  At the same time, the corporation continues charging high consumer rates, cutting off citizens unable to pay and polluting the water sources.  In 13 cities, Aguas Provinciales de Santa Fe, of which Suez is a major shareholder, refuses to comply with the contracts and denies many residents access to water and sanitation.  Consumer groups assess that Aguas Provinciales owes residents 114.3 million pesos in undone maintenance work during the 2nd, 3rd and 4th years of the contract.  During the eight years of the concession, Aguas Provinciales has never met the basic water quality parameters. When citizens demand termination of these contracts, however, Suez threatens the government with million dollar lawsuits in a World Bank arbitration court.
Bolivia:  In January 2005, after seven years of Suez controlled water systems, the people of El Alto and La Paz organized massive pressure campaigns to force the government to terminate the contract with Aguas de Illimani, of which Suez is a major shareholder.  The contract guaranteed Aguas de Illimani a 13% rate of return while leaving 200,000 people in El Alto without access to water and leaving countless others unable to afford the US$435 connection fees that are almost 8 times the monthly minimum wage in Bolivia.  Now, Suez is threatening legal action in the World Bank affiliated court.
The Philippines:  After seven years of water privatization, studies show that a fifth of residents in the east and west zones still lack water connections.  The negligence of Maynilad Water (major shareholder Suez) resulted in cholera and gastroenteritis outbreaks, killing six people and leaving 725 severely ill in Manila's Tondo district. Rising water costs, unmet service obligations, threats to existing community-owned-and-managed water systems, incentives for and bailouts of private corporations-these and more are the staggering results of privatizing the water utilities.
North America:  Citizens in many communities throughout the United States and Canada also find Suez, through its United Water subsidiary you currently lead, to be a problematic and troublesome partner in the delivery of water and wastewater services.

  • Laredo, Texas, recently cancelled its contract with United Water when your corporation asked the city for more money than was agreed to in the contract.
  • Your corporation's operation of Milwaukee's wastewater system is marked by repeated sewage spills and your insurer recently paid residents compensation for damage after sewage backed up into their homes.
  • Jersey City, New Jersey, officials were shocked to learn last year that United Water diverted $1.2 million worth of the city's water to other communities without paying Jersey City.
  • In New Orleans, United Water proved incapable of delivering a credible bid on a combined water/wastewater contract and then fled the city fearing the likelihood that any bid would be subject to public approval through a referendum.
  • Your corporation's failure to keep its showcase contract in Atlanta, Georgia, was a sufficient cautionary tale to effectively bring to a screeching halt the entire private water industry's once-grandiose plans to implement long-term monopoly water and wastewater contracts with large U.S. cities.
  • In Halifax, Nova Scotia, your corporation abandoned five years of negotiations to operate sewage treatment plants.   A partnership led by United Water was sent packing after the corporation wanted the city to accept responsibility for sewerage pumped into the harbor in non-compliance with environmental laws.
    Unfortunately, communities throughout North America have gained more than enough familiarity with a profit-driven Suez corporate culture that views water not as a human right and a shared resource but as a commodity to be cornered and controlled for rosy quarterly returns.
    We, the undersigned, enthusiastically support communities that are directly challenging Suez at today's annual general meeting.  We are part of a global movement that recognizes water as a human right, opposes Suez's irresponsible and dangerous actions, and defends local community control of public water systems. We challenge you to inform Suez and its top executives that there is growing pressure on the corporation here in the U.S., Canada and in countries around the world.


Corporate Accountability International (formerly Infact)
Public Citizen
Friends of the Earth International
Polaris Institute
Alliance for Democracy
Action for the Public Trust (APT)
Agricultural Missions
Center for Economic Justice
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Jubilee South
Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
Sisters of the Most Precious Blood
Students for a Better Society
Concerned Citizens Coalition of Stockton (CCCoS)
Concerned Citizens of Newport
Earth Cluster of Franciscans International
Louisiana ACORN
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation
The Ohio Conference on Fair Trade
WATERSPIRIT, Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace
Women For Orange County
Newark Water Group
Grassroots International
Friends of the Earth Finland
Friends of the Earth Canada
African Liberation Support Campaign Network
ATTAC Finland
Australian Coalition for Economic Justice
Bolivia Solidarity Campaign
Canadian Union of Public Employees
Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y de la Vida, Cochabamba, Bolivia
Council of Canadians
Egalitarian Solutions of Mt Pleasant
Freedom from Debt Coalition - Philippines
India Resource Center
Jubilee South - Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development (JS-APMDD)
Katipunan para sa Pagpapalaya ng Sambayanan (KALAYAAN! - Philippines)
Mindanao Workers Against Globalization
Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa
Nicaragua Network
Red Umavida
War on Want, UK
Water 4 Every 1, Iraq
Young Researchers of Banja Luka
For further information contact:

Sara Grusky
Public Citizen
215 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 454-5133 

Gigi Kellet
Corporate Accountability International
46 Plympton Street
Boston, MA  02118-2425 US
t: (617) 695-2525   f:  (617) 695-2626