UK: new bill to ban councils from adopting ethical procurement policies condemned as 'outrageous'

The bill seems partly designed to prevent human rights campaigns on Israel’s human rights record

Bill would make it unlawful for public bodies to make decisions about procurement or investment policies on ethical and human rights grounds 

Unique status given to Israel in bill shows legislation driven partly by desire to prevent opposition to human rights violations against Palestinians

‘People who care about issues such as climate justice or the arms trade will be dismayed by this legislation’ - Sacha Deshmukh 

Responding to the Government’s publication of a new bill to prevent public bodies from making decisions about their procurement or investment policies based on ethical and human rights grounds, Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK's Chief Executive, said:

“This bill is an unwarranted encroachment on the ability of public bodies to pursue ethical procurement and investment policies.
 
“It’s outrageous that the Government is trying to prevent councils from using their procurement budgets to leverage positive human rights change.
 
“People who care about issues such as climate justice or the arms trade will be dismayed by this legislation, seeing it as a door slammed in their face.
 
“The bill’s especially hardline position on human rights campaigns concerning Israel’s human rights record shows that the legislation is in part driven by a desire to prevent opposition to Israel’s system of apartheid against Palestinians.
 
“If this pernicious bill becomes law, it will close off a key means to hold companies to account and once again show that this Government thinks little of the plight of persecuted communities around the world.”

Israel given special status in the bill

The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, which has been drawn up by Michael Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, was given its first reading in the House of Commons earlier this week and is set for a substantive second reading and debate in the coming weeks. Following on from a series of anti-protest and anti-asylum laws, human rights campaigners believe the bill represents another serious attack on basic human rights and freedoms. 

The draft legislation contains a clause allowing the Secretary of State to specify whether or not a country is to be exempted from the law’s basic provisions. However, the terms of the clause specifically exclude Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories from this arrangement (Section 3 (7)), meaning that the law will permanently prohibit local authorities from being able to consider the human rights implications of procurement and investment arrangements concerning Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even with regard to goods, services and investments from or relating to Israel’s illegal settlements. 

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