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Consumer Groups Tell Water Giant Suez to Dump Its Water Privatization Model at Annual Shareholder Meeting in Paris

May 13, 2005

Consumer Groups Tell Water Giant Suez to Dump Its Water Privatization Model at Annual Shareholder Meeting in Paris

Local Groups Deliver Similar Message to U.S.Subsidiary,United Water, in New Jersey

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As shareholders gather today for water giant Suez’s annual meeting in Paris, citizens from seven countries have traveled to the French capital to denounce the corporation’s documented abuses around the world. Simultaneously, representatives from social movements on four continents are hitting the streets to protest the exploitative projects and policies of one of the largest water companies in the world. 

Suez earned a $2.42 billion net profit in 2004; in Latin America alone, profits rose nearly 15 percent in the past year. Consumer groups say the corporation’s revenue comes at the expense of economically disadvantaged people in countries where thousands lack access to potable water and water rates are skyrocketing, thanks to private water contracts.  These contracts prioritize profit over the human right to water by raising water rates, cutting off the water of people unable to pay, refusing to extend services to poverty-stricken neighborhoods, and threatening legal action when contracts are terminated.

“Our message is simple: Get out!” said Sara Grusky, a policy analyst with Public Citizen’s Water for All Campaign. “Suez is not in the business of helping poor people gain access to clean and affordable water. It is in business to make money – and the company is taking it from people who don’t have any.”

French-owned Suez has contracts in 130 countries, including the United States, where it serves more than 7 million people in 18 states through its U.S. subsidiary United Water, based in New Jersey. U.S.-based consumer, environmental and corporate accountability groups are delivering a letter today to United Water Chief Executive Officer Anthony Harding in Harrington Park, N.J., demanding that the company end corporate abuses. 

“Water is a basic human right, and people’s lack of access to water is an emerging global crisis. The United Nations estimates that by the year 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will not have access to enough water if current trends are not reversed. Suez is a leader in an industry that is turning a right into an unaffordable luxury. Our members are joining with people around the world to reject Suez’s abuses,” said Gigi Kellett, associate campaigns director for   Corporate Accountability International.

United Water’s most public failure occurred in Atlanta, Ga., in 2003, when the city terminated its water contract early after independent audits showed that the water company failed to live up to promises made when the city privatized operation of the system in 1999. Atlanta found evidence that United Water failed to perform maintenance, billed the city for work it didn’t do, ignored customers’ cries for service, cut staff to dangerously low levels and occasionally delivered filthy, brown water. Meanwhile, the company continued to ask the city for more money.

In recent years, public anger over the effects of privatized water systems has led to a massive social movement designed to resist the model of water as a commodity for sale on the open market, rather than a publicly managed social good. For example, in Buenos Aires, citizen groups have called for the termination of the contract with Aguas Argentinas (Suez is a major shareholder) because the company refuses to make the promised investment to expand the infrastructure while continuing to charge high rates and cutting off consumers who are unable to pay.

In Manila, Philippines, after seven years of water privatization, studies show that a fifth of residents in the east and west zones of the city still lack water connections, and the negligence of Maynilad Water (Suez is a major shareholder) has resulted in cholera and gastroenteritis outbreaks that have killed six people and severely sickened 725 in Manila’s Tondo district. Meanwhile, Maynilad and Manila Water have increased water rates by 400 percent in the West Zone, and 700 percent in the east zone. 

In solidarity with the protest during the Paris shareholder meeting, there will be peaceful marches and protests in front of the offices of Suez in numerous cities around the world including Paris, Buenos Aires, Quito, La Paz, London, Montevideo, Manila, Rome and others.

For more information, please visit www.stopsuez.org.