Sheffield protest against new anti-financial boycott law
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Legislation currently going through the House of Commons poses a major threat to local democracy by removing powers of decision-making from public bodies like councils and universities in crucial areas of spending, investment and divestment, say the Sheffield Coalition against Israeli Apartheid. They are joining a protest at noon on Saturday as part of a national day of action against the Bill.
The group are supporting the Right to Boycott campaign, made up of a range of organisations concerned that the proposed law, Economic Activity of Public Bodies (overseas matters) Bill, means that councils that wish to make financial decisions in line with international law and human rights will not be able to do so, unless these are in agreement with government policy.
Right to Boycott say in a joint statement: “As a group of civil society organisations made up of trade unions, charities, NGOs, faith, climate justice, human rights, cultural, campaigning and solidarity organisations, we advocate for the right of public bodies to decide not to purchase or procure from or invest in companies involved in human rights abuse, abuse of workers’ rights, destruction of our planet, or any other harmful or illegal acts.
“We therefore oppose the government’s proposed law to stop public bodies from taking such actions.”
Sheffield groups supporting Palestine have been urging Sheffield City Council to move pension fund investments away from companies connected with Israel.
A spokesperson for the Sheffield Coalition against Israeli Apartheid said: “Sheffield has a proud history of taking a moral position. From being the first city to declare itself an Apartheid Free Zone in opposition to South African apartheid in 1981, to becoming the first UK City of Sanctuary, Sheffield has been bold in its ethical choices. Such independent decision-making will be removed under the new law.
“This law will also sever an important connection between the electorate and the council, making it impossible for our elected representatives to act in line with local views on matters such as pensions investments.
“Leader of the city council, Tom Hunt, acknowledges the dangers of the Bill. He listed some of these in a letter to a Sheffield Coalition comprising the Trades Council, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Labour Friends of Palestine and Kairos Sheffield.
“Mr Hunt wrote: “…the Bill risks significantly undermining support for groups around the world facing persecution… the Bill in its current form places unprecedented restrictions on the ability of public bodies to express a view on policy, has potential widespread and negative impacts on local government pension funds, and is likely to be subject to repeated and extended legal challenge”.
“Yet Mr Hunt also said that Sheffield City Council “does not have a formal position on the Bill”.
“Shockingly, the Bill even has a “gagging clause” which would penalise individual decision-makers in public bodies if they were to say that they would support a moral stance on spending and investment if the law were to permit it!”
The spokesperson added: “It is alarming that Israel alone is mentioned by name in the Bill and is given special protection. The Bill does not permit any economic sanctions at all against Israel without passing a new law.
“Compare this with the immediate sanctions against Russia and we see the problem.
"This Bill effectively gives carte blanche to Israel to continue its violent repression of the Palestinians and its illegal settlement expansion across the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”