High Court to Mull Burma Trade Ban: State, Local Boycotts Hang in Balance

By Burn, Timothy | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 30, 1999 | Go to article overview

High Court to Mull Burma Trade Ban: State, Local Boycotts Hang in Balance


Burn, Timothy, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to decide whether state and local governments can protest human rights abuses in other nations by restricting purchases from companies that do business in those countries.

The high court said it would rule next year on the constitutionality of Massachusetts' Burma Law, adopted in 1996 in response to widespread human rights abuses by Burma's military regime.

At issue is whether the law supersedes federal laws regarding international trade.

The pending decision has far-reaching implications, since many other states and cities have adopted similar measures involving Burma - which calls itself Myanmar - and other countries, such as China and Cuba, cited for human rights abuses.

The city of Takoma Park is one of 37 other governments that have taken steps to restrict business ties to countries like Burma.

The state of Maryland considered similar legislation against Nigeria last year, but tabled the matter under pressure from the State Department.

Advocates hope that the laws will help stem the flow of money into those nations and spur political reform. During the 1980s, many states and cities boycotted companies that did business in South Africa because of racial apartheid in that country.

But major corporations argue that such unilateral action threatens their ability to conduct business overseas and jeopardizes U.S. trading influence worldwide.

"One would think that one law on the books in Takoma Park would not have a major effect," said Frank Kittredge, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a group of U.S. multinational corporations.

"But when you have 37 different local governments with these protest laws, the cumulative effect is U.S. businesses are viewed as unreliable by foreign partners."

The foreign trade council's 580 members include major corporate names like Rockwell, Amoco Corp., Boeing Co., Citibank, Eastman Kodak Co., IBM Corp. and others. Together, they account for about 70 percent of the nation's nonagricultural exports and 70 percent of the foreign investment in the United States.

Four of its members - including Eastman Kodak and Motorola - have been forced to pull out of Burma since Massachusetts passed its boycott law in 1996.

Massachusetts' "selective-purchasing law" bars the state from buying goods and services from any company doing business with Burma, whose military dictatorship has been accused of drug trafficking, torture and using slave labor. …

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