On August 4, 2010, Massachusetts passed “An Act Relative to Pension Divestment from Certain Companies that Invest in the Republic of Iran.” The act directs the Massachusetts public pension funds to divest from certain companies “providing goods or services deployed to develop petroleum resources in Iran.”
In an effort to avoid conflict with federal policy, the Massachusetts act has two features. First, it exempts from state divestment “any company” that the US “affirmatively declares to be excluded from” federal sanctions. Second, the act has a sunset provision. The act expires if (1) the US “remov[es] Iran from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and certify[ies] that Iran is no longer pursuing a nuclear capability in violation of its international commitments and obligations,” or (2) the president “declar[es] that [the Massachusetts act] interferes with the conduct of the United States foreign policy.”
The Massachusetts Iran boycott has a long pedigree. In New England and other colonies, the founding generation considered the boycott of English tea and other products to be a wise alternative to war. Prior to the Civil War, Massachusetts abolitionists urged private boycotts of Southern goods. In the 1980s, Massachusetts was one of scores of states and cities to enact divestment and selective purchasing laws regarding South Africa. In 1996, Massachusetts restricted state purchasing from companies doing business in Burma, though the act was later struck down by the Supreme Court. Massachusetts today maintains laws restricting state investment or procurement with Sudan, China, and Northern Ireland.
Author(s): Thomas A. Barnico
Publication Date: 24 April 2021
Publication Site: CommonWealth