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Letter to Madeline Albright from the Ad-Hoc Coalition for the Defense of the Massachusetts Burma Law

  • Campaign for America's Future
  • Center of Concern
  • Co-op America
  • EarthRights International
  • Essential Action
  • Food and Allied Service Trades Department, AFL-CIO
  • Franklin Research and Development Corporation
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Institute for Policy Studies
  • International Labor Rights Fund
  • Preamble Center for Public Policy
  • Public Citizen
  • Rainforest Action Network
  • Sierra Club
July 27, 1998

The Honorable Madeleine Albright
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N. W.
Washington, D.C. 20007

Re: NFTC v. Baker
U.S. District Court for Massachusetts
Hand Delivered

Dear Madame Secretary:

We are representatives of a national coalition of grassroots advocacy groups, labor unions, religious and non-profit organizations committed to furthering human rights and democracy around the world. We are writing to voice our concerns about the above-referenced case, in which the plaintiff, an industry lobby group, has attacked on constitutional grounds the Burma selective purchasing law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

We are disturbed by reports that industry representatives have recently pressured the Administration, and especially the State Department, to publicly support the NFTC s challenge to the Massachusetts law. In particular, we were alarmed to learn that both open and closed sessions of the President s Export Council s Subcommittee on Export Administration (PECSEA) have been used by business lobbyists for the purpose of undermining the position of the State Department in favor of sanctions on Burma. We are writing to urge you to remain firm in your commitment to democracy and human rights in Burma and to defend the Massachusetts Burma law.

As you are aware, when a jurisdiction enacts a selective purchasing law, it acts as a market participant, with all the proprietary rights and powers of corporate entities, public or private, to contract with whomever they choose. The plaintiffs in NFTC v. Baker insist, however, that these traditional and effective laws are unconstitutional. We disagree; and we respectfully direct your attention to the April 9, 1986, opinion of the U.S. Department of Justice s Office of Legal Counsel, which concludes that state selective purchasing of the precise sort represented by the Massachusetts Burma law "survive constitutional scrutiny (10 U.S. Op. Off. Legal Counsel 49, *49). We are certain that your legal staff will similarly conclude that the U.S. Constitution and the traditions of federalism must allow for local control of purchasing decisions.

The Massachusetts Burma selective purchasing law effectively denies the brutal military regime in Burma international respect -- as you observed in your December, 1995 article in the New Republic. "If donor countries deny the SLORC international respectability and development assistance," you argued, "its leadership is more likely to acquiesce in this gradual enlargement of political space." Furthermore, Aung San Suu Kyi, the inspirational leader of the National League for Democracy, commented on the importance of selective purchasing laws. "Companies investing in Burma only serve to prolong the agony of my country by encouraging the present regime to persevere in its atrocities....We do not think now is the time for any foreign company to invest in Burma."

You and your good offices have demonstrated leadership in defense of democracy and human rights (over narrow interests) throughout the world. We commend your support of consumer boycotts as a way to demonstrate global solidarity and support for those pursuing change in Burma. Particularly persuasive was your argument in the New Republic that, "Democracies should be ashamed to encourage their businesspeople to be first with Burma, for this would provide the SLORC with the booty it needs to resist mounting pressure for a political opening."

Massachusetts, which staged the first consumer boycott in our nation s history when its citizens refused to purchase English tea, has joined over twenty municipal and county governments across America to enact selective purchasing laws. These laws are modeled on the effective divestiture and purchasing initiatives which animated the anti-apartheid movement in this country in the 1980s and are widely credited for the successful transition to democracy in South Africa. To paraphrase Randall Robinson of TransAfrica (the U.S. organization that lead the fight against apartheid), Nelson Mandela might still be in jail if selective purchasing laws had not been passed at many state and local government levels.

Madame Secretary, we agreed with you when you told the University of Maryland s 1998 graduating class, "[a]s Americans, we cannot accept a global economy that rewards the lowest bidder without regard to basic standards." This precise sentiment motivated the Massachusetts legislature to restrict government purchasing contracts to corporations that decide not to deal with the autocratic regime in Burma. "You know the truth is," you continued in that speech, "foreign policy is not foreign, it is what we all live with and reflects our lives." This basic truth is now under assault in Federal District Court for Massachusetts. We look forward to your continued defense of that truth and your leadership on this important issue.


Mark Anderson

Simon Billenness
Senior Analyst
Franklin Research and
Development Corporation

Brent Blackwelder
Friends of the Earth

Michael Dolan
Field Director
Public Citizen s Global Trade Watch

Alisa Gravitz
Executive Director
Co-op America

Pharis Harvey
Executive Director
International Labor Rights Fund

Randy Hayes
Rainforest Action Network

Richard Healey
Preamble Center for Public Policy

Roger Hickey
Campaign for America s Future

James E. Hug, S.J.
Executive Director
Center of Concern

Katie Redford, Esq.
Tyler Giannini, Esq.
EarthRights International

Dan Seligman
Senior Fellow
Sierra Club

Michael Shuman
Institute for Policy Studies

Robert Weissman
Essential Action

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