By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
While I am usually in agreement with Professor Turley’s views on free speech, I must disagree in large part with his opinion as he states in his article concerning England moving to bar support of local governments to boycott Israel and by extension other governments.
I do agree with his concern and objection of governments jailing individual citizens for engaging in boycotts of various entities. Allowing local governments to enact legislation calling for boycotts themselves is however problematic.
Professor Turley’s article reads in part:
England is moving to bar local councils, public bodies and even university student unions from boycotting “unethical” companies.
All “publicly funded institutions” will lose the freedom to refuse to buy goods and services from companies involved in the arms trade, fossil fuels, tobacco products or Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn denounced the plan as “an attack on local democracy” and the denial of the right of people . . . to decisions free of central government political control. That includes withdrawal of investments or procurement on ethical and human rights grounds.”
I support, in principle, legislation barring government agencies from engaging in boycotts of individuals, organizations, corporations, or other governments and states that do not engage in activities that do not violate established statutes prohibiting certain acts or omissions. That is, through long established regulations or statutes. Boycotts for that matter are in some ways a separate issue for commerce violations in that they are general in nature and are usually politically driven based upon ideological disagreements with a few members of the political class.
This is one reason the U.S. Constitution and that of the various states prohibit attainder bills which these boycotts essentially are.
The process of a political boycott is designated to enact a general prohibition to economically disenfranchise the target entity from engaging in commerce or freedoms retained with the goal of changing a practice of that target. In practice, at least in the United States where this has been attempted in the past, the state will prohibit the state from engaging in commerce with the target such as where Washington State’s Governor, Jay Inslee, declared that the state of Indiana would not receive any travel or procurements due his political objections to legislation passed by the Indiana Legislature. The effect of this is the denial of the entire other state of receiving these economic benefits, thereby depriving the Indiana Citizens the right to bid for government contracts or to earn wages or sales without any due process afforded by Washington’s constitution or statutes.
Another example for a city council shows how, using what I believe to be a worthy cause of preventing manufacturers from exploiting labor and subjecting labor to harsh working conditions, illustrates some problematic boycotting practices. In this case Resolution M-1545 of the City Council of Olympia.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF OLYMPIA THAT:
Section 1. The City will implement sweatshop-free purchasing guidelines in phases. In Phase I, to be implemented by July 1, 2004, City staff making bulk purchases of t-shirts, sweatshirts, and baseball caps shall choose from a list of manufacturers proven to be free of sweatshop working conditions, and offering items at a competitive price. Application of sweatshop-free purchasing guidelines to other items of clothing or footwear shall occur in future phases as directed by the Olympia City Council.
Section 2. All requests for bid or quote on t-shirts, sweatshirts, and baseball caps shall include a copy of this Resolution.
Section 3. To determine whether a bid is responsive in terms of these criteria, the City may consider information obtained independently from the bid from the following: the manufacturer, the distributor from whom the goods are purchased, reputable national and international organizations, well documented media reports, and well-documented information from local citizens groups that are knowledgeable about this topic.
Section 4. City staff shall provide individual employees who receive a clothing or footwear allowance, or who make reimbursable purchases of work clothes or footwear, information on local retailers, wholesalers, or known manufacturers of sweatshop-free items, and encourage those employees to make purchases from those sources.
Section 5. The City Council Budget Committee shall review the progress in implementing this resolution annually through 2006 to determine its effectiveness in assisting the City and its employees in purchasing covered goods from responsible and ethical manufacturers, any impact that this policy may have on the ability of the City to purchase such items at competitive prices, and the timing and means of including additional clothing items under the purchasing guidelines.
PASSED AND APPROVED this 9th day of March, 2004.
Here, the definition of “sweatshop” is not properly defined. It also, I believe, violates federal trade practices regarding international commerce. It defines a list of individual companies approved for sales with the exclusion of others deemed to be in violation of the resolution, hence prohibiting other manufactures from entering the marketplace to sell wares to the city.
Again, I am not advocating the proliferation of “sweatshops”. I take exception to this indirect form of boycott which is largely based upon an arbitrary selection process.
This boycotting practice has the potential if allowed to grow unchecked could become more widespread where the threat of sanction can chill not only commerce but actually the free speech of individuals and entities where speech that is deemed offensive by local councils can be curtailed by the threat of punishment. I worry that organizations and assemblies of citizens will be targeted, thus permitting only speech of a particular kind that is effectively a moving target as the political winds change direction frequently.
Where would we be as a society if our governments could boycott by resolution the ACLU, Wild Salmon Fisheries, leagues of women voters, cities, states, or nations? It is the right of the individual person to decide for themselves.
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.