End Genocide, Starting With Your Hometown

By Simon Billenness, Executive Director, International Campaign for the Rohingya

We have an honorable American tradition of our cities and states upholding human rights. Now is the time for us to demand that our taxpayer dollars don’t contribute to genocide.

During the American Revolution, town meetings adopted resolutions calling for a boycott of British-made goods. The Boston Tea Party seized on the spirit of these resolutions through its historic act of dumping British tea in Boston Harbor. This revolutionary campaign is captured in T.H. Breen’s book “The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence.” It was in part through this “boycott British” campaign that the American colonies united and rose up to secure their independence.

City and state “end genocide” laws build on this American tradition. These laws follow in the footsteps of other American campaigns and movements. The American abolitionist movement worked with local and state governments on measures to help end slavery. Starting in the 1950s, the movements for civil rights and women’s equality successful lobbied for municipal, county, and state preferences and requirements for certain contractors to develop plans to subcontract to minority and women-owned businesses.

In the 1980s, the anti-apartheid movement forced corporations to divest from South Africa under pressure from municipal and state laws. In the 1990s, over 100 corporations withdrew from Burma (Myanmar) after Massachusetts and over 20 cities passed laws effectively boycotting companies doing business in the country. In the 2000s, the Save Darfur campaign mobilized pressure on oil companies in Sudan. Today, the fossil fuel divestment campaign is succeeding in mobilizing state and local government to tackle climate change.

By passing an end genocide resolution or law, a city, county, or state can express its citizens’ values in its spending and its investment of taxpayer dollars as an actor in the marketplace for goods, services, and capital. In so doing, the city or state will also act in solidarity with people at risk of genocide, crimes against humanity, and other mass atrocities.

By passing an “End Genocide Law,” we can ensure that our hometowns will help end genocide through the spending and investment of our taxpayer dollars. We can ensure that our cities and our states will use their power as consumers and an investors to put effective pressure on corporations not to do business with regimes perpetuating genocide.

How Does This Help End Genocide?

The mission of our “No Business With Genocide” campaign is is to pressure key corporations to adopt a policy of not doing business with regimes complicit in genocide and/or crimes against humanity.  We can achieve this by using our power as shareholders, consumers, and citizens. 

Governments rely on the investments and services of foreign corporations. Consequently, any threat of withdrawal by key corporations can serve as a deterrent to prevent governments from crossing certain lines, such as committing genocide.

Our power is not just as individuals. We also have considerable power as citizens to demand that our city and our state also use the consumer and investor power​ of the billions of our taxpayer dollars.

What would be the impact of our local “End Genocide” campaigns? In the course of our campaign to make your hometown enact an “End Genocide Law,” we could achieve the following:

  • Educate our neighbors about the risks of genocide across the world and what they can do about it in our hometowns;
  • Highlight corporations that support governments engaged in or considering committing genocide and/or crimes against humanity;
  • Put billions of dollars of our tax dollars to work influencing corporations to, in turn, pressure governments to avoid committing genocide or other crimes against humanity;
  • Provide a foundation for you and your neighbors to engage as citizens with your local city and state representatives;
  • Make our hometowns play their part in a growing global movement to end genocide.

 What Do “End Genocide Laws” Do?

A city, county, or state “End Genocide Bill” is made up of four parts:

  • Findings and Definitions
  • Procurement Provisions
  • Investment Provisions
  • Establishment of Genocide Prevention Commission

In the findings, the city or state declares how the bill puts into practice its citizens’ values. The wording can include:

  1. Whereas, the citizens of [city/state] hold as their values universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  2. Whereas, the [city/state] routinely purchases from and invests in corporations with global operations and supply chains;
  3. Whereas, the citizens of [city/state] recognize the important role local communities can take to promote the practice of ethical procurement and ethical investment in accordance with their values.

The bill should use the definition of genocide contained in the Genocide Convention. Crimes Against Humanity should be defined according to Article 10 of the Rome Statute.

Procurement Provisions

The city or state would use its power as multi-million or multi-billion dollar consumer of goods and services to put pressure on corporations in the marketplace for goods and services.

Effective immediately, in its RFPs and contracts, the city or state would require contractors to disclose any company policy that they have of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide and/or crimes against humanity.

Within two years, in its RFPs and contracts, the city or state would require contractors to have a written and formally adopted company policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide and/or crimes against humanity.

These provisions would apply to any contractor with the state with annual revenues of certain amount, such as $100 million or greater.

Investment Provisions

The city or state would use its power as a shareholder – or part owner – of corporations to put direct pressure on corporate management.

The city or state will require that its investment managers:

  • vote the city or state’s shares in favor of shareholder resolutions that ask companies to adopt a policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide and/or crimes against humanity
  • file an annual public report with the City Comptroller or State Treasurer on the investment manager’s use of shareholder advocacy with the city or state’s portfolio companies to persuade those companies to adopt and implement a policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide and/or crimes against humanity

Establishment of an “End Genocide Commission”

The city or state will establish an “End Genocide Commission.”  For State commissions, two members could each be appointed by the Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Senate President, and Assembly Speaker. City commissions could be appointed half by the mayor and half by the city council.

The purpose of the “End Genocide Commission” would be to:

  • Research and publish annual report on:
    1. countries committing and/or “at risk” of committing genocide and/or crimes against humanity
    2. city or state contractors doing business in those countries
  • Convene periodic hearings on how city or state officials are implementing the procurement and investment provisions of the End Genocide Law
  • Create a local institution with government funding that can further the goals of the broader local, national, and international movement to prevent genocide and/or crimes against humanity

Now is the time for us to step up and make a difference. We can do this starting in our home towns. Working together, we can be the grassroots campaigners who will build the global movement to end genocide. 

To join the campaign to end genocide, click here to contact the International Campaign for the Rohingya.

We can provide you with advice, materials to share with your city council member and state legislator, and connect you with activists around the world campaigning to enact their local “End Genocide Law.”