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Three of the world’s biggest water corporations are being accused of working as a cartel to fix the price of water and wastewater services in France.

The European Union’s anti-trust regulator is probing whether Suez Environnement, Veolia Environnement and SAUR “coordinated their behaviour in markets for water and wastewater services in France, in particular with respect to elements of the price invoiced to final consumers”.

Together the three multinationals control 69 per cent of the country’s water distribution systems and 55 per cent of the water treatment systems. The regulator has also included the Fédération Professionnelle des Entreprises de l’Eau (the group representing most French water corporations) in its probe.

In 2010, the regulator raided offices of several multinationals, investigating allegations the corporations used their dominant position in the sector to fix bids and overcharge communities.

The following year Suez and its French subsidiary Lyonnaise des Eaux (LDE) France were fined 8 million Euros after the seal was broken on a LDE office the regulator had closed to prevent documents being destroyed or removed.

Anti-competitive practices and corruption have long tainted the French water industry. The country is seen by many as the birthplace of water privatization, and is home to water multinationals that are pushing to open Canada’s water and wastewater services to privatization through the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement.

The investigation comes as France prepares to host the sixth World Water Forum, which includes Veolia and Suez as major sponsors. The forum is deeply embedded in a corporate network focused on pushing water privatization. That network has deep roots in Marseille, where this year’s forum is being held in March.

CUPE is gearing up to work with Public Services International, the Council of Canadians and the global water justice movement to challenge the pro-privatization agenda at the official forum, and promote public solutions at alternative events.

CUPE has taken part in resistance to every World Water Forum since 2000.