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Companies boycott UN hearing on transnationals and apartheid

September 17, 1985

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ A U.N. panel opened a five-day hearing Monday on the activities of transnational corporations in South Africa, but the 1,068 companies invited said they would not appear.

The hearing began one day before the General Assembly convenes its 40th anniversary session.

Its purpose is to determine whether international corporations doing business in South Africa ″contribute to and sustain the system of apartheid,″ the race laws that guarantee supremacy to the nation’s 5 million whites and deny rights to its 24 million blacks.

Peter Hansen, executive director of the U.N. Center on Transnational Corporations, told reporters: ″All points of view are to be heard.″

Hansen has said that corporations giving reasons for their absence felt they would not get a fair hearing in a forum at the United Nations, where feeling against South Africa is strong.

Javier Perez de Cuellar, the U.N. secretary-general, said there was ″no doubt of the fairness and objectivity″ of the panel.

Some corporations submitted written statements.

Appearing for the world business community is the International Chamber of Commerce, whose membership includes more than 7,000 companies and business associations in at least 100 countries.

Also among the 50 witnesses expected to testify are representatives of South Africa’s Chamber of Commerce and its Federation of Industries.

According to U.N. documents, transnational corporations employ about 600,000 South Africans, 400,000 of whom are non-whites, in a total work force of 10 million.

One of the first witnesses, U.S. Rep. George T. Leland, said economic measures against South Africa that President Reagan announced last week were not strong enough. The black Texas Democrat said many Americans feel ″the United States has been too passive in its attempts to convince South Africa to dismantle apartheid.″

He told the 11-member panel that Reagan’s plan ″is not a concrete step away from involvement with the racism of South Africa. ... Simply put, it is virtually worthless.″

The Reagan measures include a ban on loans to the South African government, except for programs aiding blacks, and steps toward stopping importation of the South African krugerrand gold coin.

Leland, a leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, urged adoption of tougher economic sanctions and monitoring of enforcement.

He maintained that ″the presence of United States corporations in South Africa is directly aiding in strengthening of the apartheid regime.″

Francois Ceyrac of France, a past president of the International Chamber of Commerce, said his organization condemns apartheid but feels transnationals ″are playing an important role in accelerating the process of peaceful evolutionary change.″

Economic isolation of South Africa, he said, would ″reduce pressures for peaceful change and rob the black community of needed financial help for education, housing and other projects.″

Perez de Cuellar appointed the panel, which was authorized three years ago by the U.N. Economic and Social Council. At the opening session, he denounced apartheid as a ″cruel denial of the most basic human rights of the majority of South Africa’s population, (and) also as a threat to peace and stability in the region.″

The group’s chairman is Malcolm Fraser, former prime minister of Australia. Among its members are former U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan; Dame Judith Hart, a member of the British Parliament; Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate; a member of the collective Yugoslav presidency; a Soviet professor; a Bulgarian diplomat, and a former judge from Ghana.

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