The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to condemn apartheid, the South African policy of enforced racial segregation, but rejected a move to consider selling pension fund investments in firms that do business in South Africa.
The vote condemning apartheid was 6 to 0, with Democrat Audrey Moore abstaining. The pension fund resolution was rejected on a party-line vote, with the four-member Republican majority prevailing.
Board Democrats called the GOP-backed resolution condemning apartheid "toothless."
"We are in effect helping those companies that refuse to be a positive force for change," said Democrat James M. Scott after the defeat of his resolution calling for study of divestiture of pension fund holdings in companies that do business in South Africa and do not conform to an equal-rights code called the Sullivan Principles.
"By staying with the investments we are implicitly making a statement of support" for apartheid.
The three pension funds for Fairfax County employes total about $385 million. Fund trustees say they do not yet know how much is invested in firms doing business in South Africa, but they estimate it is a substantial portion.
Scott's resolution sparked a lengthy debate between Democrats, who argued that the board had a moral responsibility to rid itself of the investments, and Republicans, who insisted that the board's primary responsibility is to retirees and employes who may rely on their pensions, and that the board should not meddle in foreign affairs.
"We don't have a foreign relations subcommittee on this board," Chairman John F. Herrity said pointedly. He added that foreign policy experts disagree over the likely effect that a wave of divestitures would have on South African racial laws and working conditions for blacks.
Supervisor Nancy K. Falck, a Republican, declared: "If it is right for the board to take this kind of action with money from retirees or current employes without their consent, how will we make choices for other, very good causes? We are dealing with other people's money in a matter that is aimed at something other than protecting their interest."
Supervisor Thomas M. Davis, a Republican, said, "This local board getting involved in foreign policy every week -- that's not why I ran for the board." The board last month considered how to raise money for the starving people of Ethiopia.
The Republicans also argued that if American companies are forced to withdraw from South Africa because of divestiture at home, they will no longer be able to press for social change there.
He called the vote against his proposal "unfortunate." "We're not talking about totally divesting," said Scott. "We're just talking about encouraging those companies which are progressive."
Both Montgomery County and Alexandria have decided to sell off stocks in companies operating in South Africa that have refused to adhere to the Sullivan Principles.
The D.C. City Council enacted a law in March forbidding investments of city funds in all firms doing business in the country, whether or not they subscribe to the Sullivan Principles.
The Sullivan Principles, written almost a decade ago by the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan of Philadelphia, call on companies dealing in South Africa to hire, pay and assign workers without regard to race; to provide housing near the work place and to speak out against apartheid.