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San Francisco Supervisors approve slave trade disclosure

By Emmett Berg, Bay City News Service


October 31, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - San Francisco legislators voted today to force certain companies doing business with the city to disclose any links to the slave trade, though a critic said the new law would only "help attorneys in town."

Laws forcing companies to go public with aspects of their operations during the slave trade date to 2000, when the State of California required insurers doing business in the state to demonstrate whether or not the companies ever held policies insuring slaves for slave owners.

In 2002 the city of Chicago passed its Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance, and Bay Area communities such as Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond later responded by passing similar laws.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who introduced the law passed 11-0 today, said "as an African American, I believe it is our community's responsibility to educate our youth about our history. The Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance will provide all of us with a tool to learning about the past and an opportunity to make a difference in our future."

The law singles out textile, insurance and financial services companies as requiring disclosure in order to do business with the city.

Fines of $1,000 and up could be levied if a contractor was shown to have falsified or covered up any connection to the slave trade.

The city also created a fund to accept voluntary donations from contractors disclosing such connections, which would be used to "promote healing and assist the city in rectifying and remedying some of the legacies of the shameful commerce in slavery, thereby protecting and promoting public health, safety and welfare," according to the ordinance text.

Yet it was unclear how many companies would be affected, and to what extent, by the legislation.

The law exempts from disclosure all the city's major financial and insurance relationships related to employee retirement funds, healthcare trusts, medical and dental insurance, the issuance and sale of bonds and notes. It also exempts contracts granted on an emergency basis, sole-source contracts, and contracts valued at less than $5,000 per year.

"Who doesn't it apply to?" asked Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, of the exemptions.

"It seems like this will only cause major headaches for the city as contractors get confused over whether the law applies to them," Stern said. "And this is bound to help attorneys in town as people file lawsuits against city contractors alleging non disclosure."

Supervisor Maxwell was interviewed following today's board vote. Asked which textile companies, banks or insurers might now be subject to the law, Maxwell said "there are other banks that don't fall within the scope" of the exceptions. She said she was unable to give any examples.

Responding to Stern's criticism, including a statement where he called the law a "feel good resolution," Maxwell said, "I don't think it's just feel-good, it's a process. If enough cities do this process, we can really get somewhere."

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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