The Bush administration’s budget office has drawn a reproach from a coalition of American advocacy groups for overlooking a May deadline on implementing sanctions against Sudan over the genocide in Darfur. A ban on federal contracts to foreign companies that trade in Sudan’s energy and military sectors is a key feature of the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act (SADA), which US President George Bush signed into law last December. It gave the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the General Services Administration (GSA) 120 days to implement federal procurement guidelines to make companies that maintain or seek US government contracts certify they do not work in Sudan’s oil, mineral extraction, power, or defense sectors.
Advocacy director Sam Bell of the Genocide Intervention Network says that although the deadline has passed, curbing the two dozen or so mainly foreign companies that help sustain Khartoum’s financial lifeline can still make a difference in reducing attacks and violence in Sudan’s Darfur region.
“It’s really important that the rhetoric matches the action with respect to the president’s policies because otherwise, we really won’t have leverage to influence the behavior of the government of Sudan, which is the goal. I don’t imagine that our government and the Office of Management and Budget will continue to delay on implementation without facing some serious political pressure from Congress and from civil society groups like my group. So we’re going to continue working to make sure that this bill that we worked so hard on and that so many Americans lobbied for actually goes into effect,” he said.
Bell says that future action could overcome the failure to meet a May first deadline as soon as Sudan’s government through the foreign companies that worked with it feel the US financial influence.
“It just means that there’s a delay to put pressure on these companies, and by extension, to put pressure on the government of Sudan. It wouldn’t include US companies, because US companies by and large do not operate in Sudan. There are comprehensive sanctions on Sudan since 1997. This provision would target foreign companies who are both operational in Sudan in four sectors and who contract with the federal government,” he noted.
Bell explains why individual American investors can also have a say in how their assets would impact on transforming the conduct of foreign states like Sudan.
“The theory behind our work -- and listeners can find out more at http://www.sudandivestment.org -- but our theory of change that we espouse is that investors in this country (US) have leverage above and beyond what their government has, because American investors are through a number of ways invested very significantly in foreign companies – companies that the United States government doesn’t necessarily have control over. And we can use our leverage as investors to change the behavior of those companies. There are a number of avenues for doing that. We have a mutual fund screener on our website – so if you have mutual funds, you can use our tool to find out which companies have problematic operations in Sudan you’re invested in. And we have a number of different shareholder resolution campaigns going on at the major institutional investment houses in this country,” he notes.
While the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act is focused on getting a limited number of companies to stop Khartoum’s military support for the violence in Darfur, Sam Bell of the Genocide Intervention Network suggests that the legislation stops short of impeding the rights of investors and companies to engage in free commerce.
“We’re not suggesting that US investment companies are breaking US laws because they’re invested, for example, in China National Petroleum Company. What we are suggesting is that they could use their influence to change the behavior of China National Petroleum Company and that there’s a moral obligation to take this action,” he said.