A victory for local democracy and the BDS movement

27 June 2017 - 3:00pm
War on Want in the news

This article first appeared in Ethical Consumer.

The High Court has ruled that the government cannot block local councils from divesting from companies complicit in human rights abuses. This is a victory for local democracy and the fight for human rights.

In November 2015, the government announced its intention to block local councils in England and Wales from deciding how to invest their pension funds. It was a clear threat to our rights to organise divestment campaigns to stop councils supporting human rights abusing companies.

 

The government’s anti-democratic plan

When the government’s new policy was put out to public consultation, the response was extraordinary. There was a massive public outcry to what was a clear attack on local democracy.

Some 98 percent of respondents, including over 23,000 members of the public and several hundred trade union branches (including UNISON which represents local authority pension holders) rejected the government’s anti-democratic plan, yet instead of being applauded for caring about human rights, they were ignored and treated with contempt by the government.

The new regulation came into force on 1 November 2016.

Israel’s violations of international law

This case went to court because no other option was left.  Our friends at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign filed a Judicial Review and War on Want alongside Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Quakers submitted witness statements. We made it clear how important divestment campaigns had been in getting companies like G4S to end their complicity in Israel’s violations of international law.

The people were right to take up the call to protect local democracy, and have been totally vindicated.

This appalling regulation would have blocked local councils from deciding how to invest their pension funds by giving central government the power to veto decisions it doesn’t like, in relation to human rights, arms trade, fossil fuels and much else.

The growing strength of BDS

The regulation was also an explicit attempt to clamp down on the growing strength of the grassroots Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which aims to end government and corporate complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.

It is not the first time divestment has come under attack. In the 1980s, local councils across the UK took part in the anti-apartheid movement, divesting from companies which continued to do business with South Africa’s apartheid regime. At the time, Margaret Thatcher tried to stop them too, using the same arguments and tactics used against the BDS movement today. But the local councils stood firm and played a major part in helping to topple the apartheid regime.

When it comes to taking on abusive regimes, it is clear that local council divestment works. This victory will give new energy to our movement to stand up for human rights and justice.

Find out more about War on Want's Justice for Palestine campaigns here.

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