San Francisco Supervisors approve slave trade
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
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
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
"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
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."
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