Washington DC – Following a preliminary hearing held this morning in Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York on a lawsuit for monetary damages against more than 100 American and European companies that did business in South Africa between 1948 and 1994, J. Daniel O’Flaherty, Executive Director of the U.S.-South Africa Business Council, termed the lawsuit “outrageous.”
“American business has nothing to be ashamed of for its conduct during the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. On the contrary, American companies made a major contribution to undermining apartheid,” stated O’Flaherty. “Today, U.S. companies are making a vital contribution to South Africa’s economic and social development and to meet its most urgent need – the creation of more jobs.”
“The lawsuit does nothing to advance the real and present needs of the victims of apartheid. For the past eight years South Africa has given hope to the world by putting its past behind it and setting an example of reconciliation. This lawsuit represents a step backward,” he continued.
O’Flaherty pointed out that after 1977 most U.S. companies doing business in South Africa conformed closely to a code of conduct, the Sullivan Principles, and after 1986 were required by U.S. law to disobey South Africa’s apartheid laws.
William A. Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, cited the danger of proliferating suits in American courts to address the misdeeds of foreign governments. “The increasing use of a 1789 statute, known as the Alien Tort Law, to bring lawsuits against companies in U.S. courts is an abuse of the American legal system,” he said. “American companies should not be held legally accountable for the behavior of foreign governments over which they have no control.”
The US-South Africa Business Council has established a litigation support group to assist U.S. firms with this lawsuit.