We must protect the right to boycott

Campaigner Lars Petersson shares his concerns about a new threat to local democracy

Ever since taking power the government led by David Cameron has expressed its determination to uphold individual rights and freedoms; stressed its commitment to decentralised politics; and proclaimed that the process of decision-making must be brought closer to the people concerned.

Though not a Tory myself, I would strongly welcome such steps. After all, this would increase the chance that I and other ‘hard-working people’ could successfully lobby local government, such as Waltham Forest Council, to act in an ethically and ecologically responsible way. By lobbying our councils’ procurement policies of goods and services we could have a positive say not only in our own communities but far and wide. We could, as is commonly expressed, “act local and think global”.

When it comes to reality, however, myself and the government seem to end up in disagreement. To my dismay they intend to curtail  those rights; they want to remove this selective power from local governments.

Some local initiatives to which I belong, such as promotion of local food growing and improvements of energy efficiency, can be beneficial also on a global level and are therefore mostly welcomed. However, in other areas local initiatives can have far-reaching consequences of a more controversial nature – now having an impact on international politics and the interests of big business. This is where local groups, some of which I belong to, can become a threat to government interests. As I understand, the ever stronger campaigns and successes in such areas could explain the sudden interest in curtailing this grassroots influence.

As a lifelong campaigner against social division, discrimination of the vulnerable, and racism, I oppose not only socially-divisive policies such as the anti-radicalisation Prevent programme, and the ongoing social cleansing of London, but also the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians.

A few months ago a government directive was sent to local authorities, including Waltham Forest Council, telling them to abandon ethical considerations from their procurement and investment decisions. They were advised to adhere to the ‘rules of free trade’ and that ethical consideration when selecting companies from which to buy products and/or services was to be considered discriminatory.

I am only one of many concerned local people who have worked for years trying to raise awareness about the unethical nature of some companies with global interests, not just in support of Palestine but also against our money being invested in destructive activities such as arms production, fracking, and other fossil fuel extraction.

We do not want our money to be used by others to ruin the lives of sentient beings. What I now fear is that it will be made impossible for local people to stop.


To sign the petition calling to protect the right for local authorities to boycott unethical companies:

Visit https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/121704