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The second-largest water corporation in the world, Suez controls the water and wastewater systems of 110 million people in 130 countries through its water division, Ondeo. The corporation now wants to profit from Halifax’s water through its Canadian water subsidiary, United Water Services Canada.

Suez ranks 118th on Fortune’s list of the world’s 500 largest corporations, behind French water multinational Vivendi at 91 and German water giant RWE at 78. The multinational’s 2001 sales topped US$37.5 billion, and its profits were US$1.8 billion. The French water multinational is reaping the rewards of an aggressive global expansion — the corporation reports international revenues have quadrupled in the last five years.

The water privateer has a tarnished track record that spans the globe. The corporation has been convicted of bribing municipal officials in France. Significant price increases along with declines in service and serious water-related public health problems are among Suez’s troubles in numerous countries including Australia, Britain, Morocco, South Africa, Argentina and Indonesia.

The French municipality of Grenoble took back public control of its water system in March 2000, following a decade-long battle to expose the corruption and bribery Suez had used to win the contract. Both the mayor and senior managers of the corporation’s local subsidiary served jail time.

In July 2001 the city of Indianapolis bought back its public water utility from NiSource Inc., but contracted out operations and maintenance — despite evidence sitting in their own back yard that private operation has many problems. According to the Global Water Report, the city didn’t give the contract to Suez subsidiary United Water because of the company’s poor track record running the city’s wastewater treatment system. The Report found faeces “dumped all over people’s property” and “problems with basic performance.”

A Suez press release says the privateer’s three major business areas — water, energy and waste services — are “at the heart of the major challenges of the new century.” Given Suez’s involvement in the multi-million dollar Halifax deal, they will continue trying to expand into regions where public water systems have not been tapped for profits.