Friday 29 September 2023

Islington Council passes key motion on the Anti-Boycott Bill claiming the Bill poses a threat to local democracy, freedom of expression and civil society campaigns

 I wrote about concerns over the Government's Anti-Boycott Bill some time ago LINK so I was pleased to see that Islington Council last night approved a motion opposing the Bill and pointing out its difficulties. The initial motion was moved by two Green councillors, and amended by Labour. The final motion (below) was passed unanimously:

This Council notes:

  •   The “Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill”, otherwise known as the "anti-boycott bill", is slowly making its way through Parliament, and passed its second reading in July.

  •   The government’s planned anti-boycott bill poses a threat to local democracy, freedom of expression and civil society campaigns. It will shield states involved in practices that many people in this country find abhorrent, including genocide and occupation.

  •   If approved, the bill will restrict the ability of public bodies such as local authorities, universities, and some pension funds to make ethical decisions about investment and procurement. It will violate the rights of individual pension holders to invest their pensions in line with their values.

  •   The Labour Party tabled an amendment to the bill which sought to allow public bodies to make their own investment and procurement decisions and remove the threat of fines, ensuring that that such decisions are in accordance with an ethical investment framework that is applied equally across the board. This amendment was defeated in the House of Commons

  •   A broad coalition of over seventy organisations including charities, trade unions, human rights and faith organisations are working publicly to stop the bill, alongside the Scottish government.

  •   Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK's Chief Executive, called the bill “pernicious” and said “it will close off a key means to hold companies to account and once again show that this Government thinks little of the plight of persecuted communities around the world.”

  •   Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan, revealed that the Labour Party has taken legal advice over the bill, calling it “bad law” and stating that lawyers had raised concerns that the bill could lead the way for endless litigation in the courts over the practice of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

    This Council further notes:

  •   Procurement of goods and services is an important part of councils’ expenditure with third party revenue expenditure totalling around £60 billion a year across local government. This council spends £650million with almost 6,000 providers.

  •   In our progressive procurement strategy – adopted in 2020 – we seek to encourage and amplify the award of work, supply and service contracts to companies and professionals that perform public contracts with a business model based on ethical behaviour, and to promote democratic participation and drive social innovation.

  •   The framework incorporates a series of mandatory ethical requirements that we expect of ourselves and from those who want to do business with the council. By ethical behaviour, we define this as decent wages, fair employment practices, safeguards against modern slavery and environmental sustainability.

  •   In 2018, Islington became the first council nationally to sign the Charter Against Modern Slavery

  •   Over 80 local authorities across the UK have now signed the Charter, which Islington Council helped draft. Addressing modern slavery is a key priority for the council, with work on it overseen by the Safer Islington Partnership. We have an ongoing training programme to assist staff and partners to identify the signs of modern slavery.

  •   We use our leverage as a major commissioner to encourage suppliers to support and endorse accreditations and charters such as ethical procuring and supply chain visibility.

  •   Trade Unions have an important role to play in the fight against modern slavery and exploitation by supporting and championing workers’ rights. Workers and providers are frequently not aware of their rights and responsibilities. It is for that reason that the Council has taken a stand against blacklisting of trade union members and emphasise this requirement as mandatory.

  •   BDS has a centuries-long tradition as a successful method of peaceful protest and local government has played its part in following this democratic political practice.

  •   BDS campaigns have been used by social movements to change the course of history for the better.

  •   Concerned members of the public and local authorities have championed BDS tactics in prominent campaigns such as the 1963 Bristol bus boycott, the rejection of sugar produced on slave plantations, led by nineteenth century British citizens, and divestment from fossil fuel companies. The best-known boycott was the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.

  •   During the campaign to end South African apartheid, similar limitations were introduced. Nonetheless, millions of people, including local councils, continued their support for the movement.

  •   In 2016, a UK High Court ruled that the boycotts of Israeli settlement goods by local authorities in Leicester and Wales were not anti-Semitic, nor did they contravene laws on equality.

  •   Restricting the ability of local councils to engage in BDS in wrong. In a world where Uyghur’s, undergoing ethnic cleansing, are forced to produce garments and commodities, where local government pension funds are invested in arms companies known to be complicit in violations of Palestinian human rights, and where Saudi Arabia, accused of crimes against humanity, is the world’s largest oil exporter, we need these tactics to hold those complicit to account.

This Council resolves to:

  •   Write to the Prime Minister to share, and ask him to consider, the legal opinion published by the Labour Party on the rights of councils to boycott oppressive regimes and illegal practices, emphasising the need for councils to make their own decisions on procurement and investment matters.

  •   Continue to ensure that our own ethical procurement strategy doesn’t include procuring goods and services produced by oppressive regimes,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well done. Full support.