A San Diego City Council committee considered Monday whether to ban city investments in corporations that do business with apartheid South Africa.
"I feel like we're in partnership with a very evil system," said Councilman William Jones before the Rules Committee unanimously voted to ask the city manager's office to investigate how to implement such a ban.
At issue is how to invest the city employees' $378-million retirement portfolio.
Currently, 8.8% of those investments--or $35,488,000--are with six companies companies that do business with South Africa. (The six firms are Avery International, Dun & Bradstreet, Times Mirror, IBM, Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing and Phillips Petroleum.) Three of the firms, IBM, Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing and Phillips, have signed an agreement called the Sullivan Principles in which they pledged not to discriminate against blacks in employment.
But the Sullivan Principles don't change a racist nation, members of a new coalition, San Diegans for Divestment, charged Monday. And several council members agreed. The council should send a message to South Africa by barring investments in companies that do business with that nation, they said.
San Diego is the latest in a growing list of cities and states to consider such a divestment. In California, the cities of Cotati, Berkeley, Davis and Santa Cruz have passed a similar divestment policy. So have Cambridge, Mass., New York City, Newark, Boston and Cleveland.
Currently San Diego's Retirement Board invest city pension funds in a mixture of bonds, stocks and real estate. It does so under the so-called "prudent investor" philosophy, in which the board seeks the highest and most secure rate of return without weighing ethical or "social justice" issues.
The Retirement Board opposes adding a policy of social concern to their investment strategy.
To do so "would compromise the fiduciary responsibilities of the Retirement Board," Jerald P. Lewis, board president, wrote to the Rules Committee.
But Greg Akili, a co-chairman of San Diegans for Divestment, argued for a "South Africa-free portfolio." "Is it prudent to invest in racism? I don't think so," he said.
The divestment coalition includes the Black Federation, the Lawyers Guild, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the Rainbow Coalition and at least 300 city employees.