Protect the right to boycott unethical companies

Quakers and other civil society groups are opposing the government's plans for an 'anti-boycott bill' which would dramatically affect their ability to campaign for social and climate justice.

Quaker lying under placard
Quakers campaign for climate justice, photo credit: Sunniva Taylor for Quakers in Britain

Under the proposed legislation, public bodies could be forced to follow UK foreign policy in their purchasing, procurement and investment decisions.

Now faith groups including Quakers in Britain, the Methodist Church in Britain, the United Reformed Church and the Muslim Association of Britain, have joined other civil society groups in calling for the plans to be dropped.

Threat to freedom of expression

Signatories to the statement, who include Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, say that the new law would stop the use of the tactics that helped liberate South Africa from apartheid, stifling campaigns from fossil fuel divestment to arms embargoes.

“The proposed law presents a threat to freedom of expression, and the ability of public bodies and democratic institutions to spend, invest and trade ethically in line with international law and human rights," the statement says.

The bill is the latest in a string of repressive legislation, including the Policing Bill and the Nationality and Borders Bill, and represents a threat to fundamental rights to hold government and institutions to account.

The government has framed this legislation around opposition to boycotting and divestment of companies connected with the occupation of Palestine, advocated by groups concerned about the violation of Palestinian rights.

Signatories say: “We affirm that it is the right of public bodies to do so, and in fact a responsibility to break ties with companies contributing to abuses of rights and violations of international law in occupied Palestine and anywhere else where such acts occur."

Legislation would stifle campaigns

But the impact of this legislation would be much wider, stifling campaigns concerned with the arms trade, climate justice, human rights and international law.

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain, said: “We are very concerned about the efforts by the government to silence the ethical investment movement. As Quakers, we believe strongly in the power of legitimate, nonviolent, democratic tools such as divestment from unethical trades to realise positive change in our world. Faith is not just about words; it's about how we use our beliefs to change the world. That means being able to put our money where our mouth is.

“The planned legislation would mean that public bodies, including local councils, could be forced into investing in companies complicit in human rights abuses, rather than investing with integrity."

A previous attempt by the government to prevent ethical boycott and divestment campaigns in Britain was overturned by the Supreme Court in May 2020 following a four-year battle brought by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and supported by Quakers in Britain and other groups.

Read the full text of the statement here