Code of Conduct Viewed as Heavy-Handed

MASSACHUSETTS legislation aimed at repealing state sanctions includes a code of conduct that companies doing business in South Africa are ``strongly encouraged'' to follow.

The principles cover employment practices, workplace discrimination, worker rights, the environment, and provisions for the development of black businesses in South Africa.

Opponents of such principles say they will serve as a disincentive to companies interested in investing in South Africa. They add that monitoring companies to make sure they are complying with a code also would be difficult and time consuming.

In 1977, a number of large US companies, along with the Rev. Leon Sullivan, then a board member at General Motors and a civil rights activist, drafted a voluntary ``Statement of Principles'' for companies investing in South Africa. For many years, a majority of US employers were signatories of the statement, according to the Investment Responsibility Research Center (IRRC) in Washington.

On Oct. 20, Mr. Sullivan urged companies to return to South Africa and said they should follow corporate responsibility guidelines and be monitored on adherence to such guidelines. He said that once the new South African government passed laws guaranteeing safeguards for black workers, the Statement of Principles would no longer be necessary.

But for the first time since 1986, more US companies have not signed the statement (83) than have signed (56), according to the IRRC. The African National Congress says it will encourage companies to adhere to its own guidelines, released with South Africa's leading trade union federation in November. The guidelines will not include monitoring provisions.

``Any imposition of such codes [by the United States] perpetuates precisely the reason companies left South Africa in the first place,'' says Michael Christie of the South Africa Foundation. ``From the South Africa point of view, there is an important issue of sovereignty here.

``South Africa should be free to invite American investors ... to assist us in rebuilding our economy, but to do so on our terms,'' Mr. Christie adds. ``To impose mandated adherence ... to employment codes that would be monitored by the US, suggests that we as a society will not be able to properly regulate a nondiscriminatory workplace.''

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