American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
What is the Massachusetts Burma Law, and Does It Matter?
The Supreme Court has decided to hear the case being made against the Massachusetts Burma Law. The Court's decision will have far-reaching implications for the future of democracy and the way in which nonviolent pressure may be exerted on military dictatorships and human rights abusers.
Modeled on legislation that was so successful in putting economic pressure on the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Massachusetts Burma Law effectively bars companies that do business in Burma from receiving state contracts. In other words, if you support the military dictatorship in Burma, the Massachusetts state government will not give you its business.
However, European and Japanese companies have successfully persuaded the European Union and the Japanese government to challenge the Massachusetts Burma Law as an unfair trade barrier. At the same time, the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC)--a group of large US multinational corporations--has brought suit against the Massachusetts Burma Law in US federal court alleging that the law is unconstitutional.
The US Federal Appeals Court in Boston struck down the Massachusetts Burma Law agreeing with the corporate argument that the law interferes with the US federal government's foreign affairs powers. What evidence did the NFTC offer as proof that Massachusetts had interfered in foreign policy? The fact that the European Union and Japan had challenged the Massachusetts Burma Law at the WTO!
If it stands, this ruling could result in the courts striking down numerous state and local laws that affect trade and investment by powerful foreign corporations. In a petition to the US Supreme Court, the Massachusetts Attorney General argues that: "the [Federal Appeals] court's reliance on trade complaints--inevitable rows in an era of global procurement--grants to foreign countries and foreign firms a 'heckler's veto' against state laws."
If the US Supreme Court upholds the lower court's ruling that the Massachusetts Burma Law is unconstitutional, then we, the citizens of the United States, will lose our right to direct how our state governments spend our tax dollars. We have a right to say that our tax money should not go to companies that support dictators, such as the Burmese military junta.
We must support the Massachusetts
Burma Law. We must join in solidarity to support democracy in
Burma. Come join our rally on March 22nd at 9 AM in front of the
Supreme Court in Washington, DC and help bring democracy to Burma.
Upholding Local Democracy
is spokesman for the New England Burma Roundtable. Reprinted from
Trillium Asset Management's "Investing For a Better
World," December 1999.
The day of November 29, 1999 was eventful by any standard. Protestant and Catholic leaders in Northern Ireland picked members of the cabinet that will run the province's new Assembly. Hundreds of demonstrators in Seattle greeted the opening of the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks. Meanwhile, in Washington DC, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of the Massachusetts Burma selective purchasing law that was struck down as unconstitutional by federal appeals court.
A common thread runs through each of these events. Without state and local selective purchasing laws, we might not be witnessing the current breakthroughs in the Northern Ireland peace process--however fragile. In the mid-1980s, American cities and states led by the New York City Comptroller's office began to promote the MacBride Principles. The Principles are a code of conduct for companies in Northern Ireland that address the problem of workplace religious discrimination. Inspired by similar laws with regard to South Africa, more than a dozen US cities and states have enacted laws that require their contractors to abide by the MacBride Principles. Today, more than 40 corporations implement the MacBride Principles. This movement by cities and states also provides a grassroots political base for the US federal government's growing involvement in Northern Ireland, which in turn has reinforced the peace process there.
Only in the United States do you find state and local governments with both billion dollar procurement budgets and the strong tradition of using their powers to support democracy, human rights, and the environment. More recently, American state and local selective purchasing laws have increasingly affected companies based outside the United States. Sweden's Ericsson and Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries lost contracts worth millions with San Francisco due to the city's Burma law. Swiss banks came under pressure to settle lawsuits with Holocaust victims after the New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi organized US cities and states to threaten the banks with loss of contracts. American cities have also restricted their purchase of rainforest and old-growth woods used in broadwalks.
This is where the WTO comes in. In 1997, European and Japanese companies prompted the European Commission and the Japanese to challenge the Massachusetts Burma Law alleging that it violated the WTO Government Procurement Agreement. This agreement bars the use of 'non-economic' criteria--such as human rights or environmental considerations--in public procurement.
state and local selective purchasing laws have proved to be increasingly
effective in influencing companies around the world. But are these
laws still constitutional? A key tool in holding corporations
accountable hangs in the balance as the US Supreme Court makes