Organisations in Wales have serious concerns about the implications of the UK Government Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. If implemented, the Bill will limit the ability of public authorities to make ethical choices about spending and investment. It will prevent public bodies, like local councils or universities, as well as the Welsh Government, from cutting ties with companies engaged in human rights abuses or environmental destruction committed in a foreign country. On a Wales level, organisations are concerned that the Bill undermines Welsh legislation recently enacted through the Social Partnerships and Public Procurement Act, implications for delivery of the Economic Contract and potentially weakening action to eradicate unlawful and unethical employment practices in Welsh public sector supply chains through the Code of Practice: Ethical Employment in Supply Chains.
In addition, clauses in the bill pose a threat to freedom of speech effectively preventing local representatives from explaining their position to the electorate. Clause 4(1) of the bill forbids all those subject to the proposed new law from even stating on a public platform or a hustings event, that they would support taking a decision to ethically divest if it were legal for them to do so.
Clause 3(7) of the Bill also runs contrary to the UK’s endorsement of UNSC Resolution 2334 that requires states to differentiate between their dealings with Israel in its recognised borders and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
As such we have issued a joint letter to all Members of the Senedd asking them to with-hold legislative consent for the Bill and to all Welsh MPs asking them to voice concerns about the implications of this bill and to vote against it in its entirety at its third reading as it is not amenable to amendments.
Boycott and divestment campaigns provide a peaceful way for people to push for justice and have been used by social movements across the world to pressure regimes, institutions, or companies to change abusive, discriminatory, or illegal practices. Wales has a proud history of support for these progressive movements, for example the famous refusal of renowned poet and abolitionist, Iolo Morganwg, to stock sugar produced on slave plantations in his shop in Cowbridge during the late eighteenth century.
More recently, Wales is rightly proud of the role it played in the worldwide Anti-Apartheid Movement, and was commended by Nelson Mandela when he received the Freedom of the City of Cardiff in 1998.
‘The knowledge that local authorities all over Wales were banning apartheid products from canteens and schools – and that the universities, the Welsh Rugby Union, and the choirs had cut their links – was a great inspiration to us in our struggle.’
A key part of that successful campaign was the imposition of economic sanctions (refusing investment and procurement from South Africa) by local authorities in Wales. This would have been illegal under the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill currently before the House of Commons.
You can read the joint letter to Members of the Senedd here
You can read the joint letter to Welsh MPs here
If you would like to know more about the potential implications of this Bill you can read this article by Human Rights Watch.hi