UNISON is urging MPs to speak out and oppose the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill when it gets its second reading later today.
UNISON is deeply concerned by the Bill, which is intended to prevent public bodies from “being influenced in their procurement or investment decisions by political or moral disapproval of the conduct or policy of a government or any other public authority in a foreign territory”.
The union is particularly concerned that the Bill would prohibit public bodies from being influenced by “political or moral disapproval of foreign states when making procurement and investment decisions”.
This would undermine the duty of pension funds to consider scheme members’ legitimate concerns, including when pensions are invested in companies violate human and workers’ rights, violate international law or contribute to the climate crisis.
The Bill would also limit the ability of public bodies to consider these risks in procurement supply chains and use the enormous potential leverage of public procurement to improve the practices of businesses worldwide.
UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards said: “If passed, the Bill could also expose public authorities to increased litigation relating to their procurement or investment decision. It further curtails local democracy by prohibiting elected officials from stating that they would support divestment from a company involved in human rights violations in Xinjiang, for example, if the law allowed.
“This represents a significant attack on the right of elected officials to freedom of expression. Worryingly, it also provides the government with exceptional new powers, including to issue fines to individuals and bodies for expressing their views.
“The government would also have the authority to exempt any territory from the legislation, apart from Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, and the occupied Golan Heights.”
Earlier in June delegates at UNISON’s national conference, representing UNISON members from all over the UK, considered these concerns and voted overwhelmingly to oppose this damaging proposed law.