Divestment sleight of hand

Divestment sleight of hand

Remember the old saying, be careful what you wish for because you might get it?
Well those words could easily apply to the bill introduced by state Rep. Josh Shapiro requiring Pennsylvania’s pension funds to divest from companies doing business in Iran and Sudan.
Like many things, the bill is not quite what it seems at first blush.
Chronicle Associate Editor Eric Lidji reports this week that Shapiro, a Montgomery County Democrat, reintroduced his bill, titled the Protecting Pennsylvania’s Investments Act, on July 1. Generally, it calls for the State Employees Retirement Fund, the Public School Employees Retirement Fund, the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement Fund and any other fund managed by the State Treasurer to fully divest themselves from companies that have business interests in Iran and Sudan.
But like many things in life, the devil is in the details.
Once the law goes into effect — if it passes — fund managers would have 120 days to notify companies doing business in those despotic countries in order to give them a chance to come into compliance with the law. After that, the companies have 90 days to announce “substantial changes.”
If the companies announce that they will comply, they have one year to follow through. Either way, if the companies fail to cease their business in Iran and Sudan, then the fund manager has 15 months to divest the assets.
According to our calculations, under the maximum timeline allowed under the bill, the process could take 34 months. Shapiro disagrees with those numbers. Even so, he puts the maximum time at two years.
Either way, divestment wouldn’t happen right away.
Don’t get us wrong, we support Shapiro’s bill, as do more than 80 co-sponsors in the state House, including Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill. Also, we’re told that the time elements in this bill are in line with divestment legislation pending in other states.
But the news is disappointing all the same. Aside from a symbolic statement, what real impact would the divestment bill have on two of the most notorious rogue countries in the world today, one of whom — Iran — repeatedly threatens Israel’s existence?
We understand that divestment can’t happen with a snap of our fingers. Companies must be given a chance to comply. But let’s get real; these corporations — mainly oil companies — already know these business relationships are controversial. Unless you have been living in a cave for the past five years, you have heard of the genocide in Darfur and the reckless incitement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
We hope some way can be found to shave months off the process in Shapiro’s bill. That would serve justice, give the legislation real teeth and, simply put, be the right thing to do.