City Council’s slavery disclosure bill is likely to create rifts, not heal them By Matt Wolfe

This article was published by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Click here to read the article on the publisher’s website.

Let me get one thing out of the way: I am against slavery. It seems like it was never a good idea. Of course, I have no experience with slavery since it has been outlawed since about a century before I was born.

Even though there is not any slavery here, Philadelphia City Council seems unnecessarily obsessed with it. They passed a bill that will require any business seeking a city contract to search their records and disclose whether their company ever profited from slavery.

Let’s see. City Council could not bring to a vote a bill to ban smoking in public places. City Council could not pass a new ethics bill at a time when the federal corruption trial brings embarrassing revelations every day that point out why we need a new ethics bill. Yet, City Council passed a slavery disclosure bill.

(Imagine Nero fiddling while Rome burns.)

How many businesses have profited from slavery? Not many, I would guess. The business would have to be at least 150 years old and be in certain industries, such as shipping or agriculture. However, all businesses are affected by this law. Every business must file an affidavit with the city in order to be eligible to do business with the City of Philadelphia.

We have to ask ourselves what the purpose of this legislation is. Whatever happened occurred hundreds of years ago. No one involved at that time is still alive, let alone involved in these businesses today. Any business that actually did profit from slavery is not prohibited from doing business with the city. There is no penalty for a business that may find such information in its past.

So, why was this legislation passed? Pandering. Pandering to those who think that monetary “reparations” are somehow due from today’s taxpayers because of slavery that existed before any of those taxpayers were alive. It is pandering to those who plan to use the information disclosed to clog our courts with frivolous reparations lawsuits against corporations that disclose such information.

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who cosponsored the bill, says that it was more about healing than punishing. But if anything it creates contention where none should exist.

In Chicago, which has similar legislation, there is a witch hunt going on. One alderman (that city’s version of a Council member) even demanded that the chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Authority resign because she stated that “the Lehman Brothers in the 1850s is not the company that it is today,” referring to her employer, which disclosed that its founders may have owned slaves.

In Chicago, those businesses that disclose pasts involving slavery have been condemned. Those that do not are accused of lying, and the reparations people are using students from Northeastern Illinois University to do research to determine if they can find information to expose and punish these companies and terminate their city contracts.

It seems to me that the real slavery profiteers are the reparations advocates who have made a career pushing this issue and the politicians who support them.

I have a better idea. How about we require all businesses that want contracts with the city to disclose whether they profited from donating money to Mayor Street’s reelection campaign or those of Council members? At least that is relevant today.

The real effect of this legislation is that it costs taxpayers money – unnecessarily. It certainly sends a message that Philadelphia is not a good place to do business. Some businesses will not bid on contracts, and this will mean less competition and therefore higher costs for us. It is another paperwork requirement that will cost every business, whether it is a 300-year-old bank or a year-old, minority-owned contractor, money to comply with.

What is perhaps most disturbing about all of this is that the ordinance passed unanimously. Not a single member of City Council had the backbone to speak out against this bill or to even vote against it.

Matthew Wolfe lives and writes in Philadelphia.

Disclosing Slavery

Each contractor with whom a City Agency enters into a contract, whether subject to competitive bid or not, within the first 90 days after the contract’s execution, shall complete an affidavit verifying that the contractor has searched any and all records of the company or any predecessor company regarding records of investments or profits from slavery or slaveholder insurance policies during the slavery era. The names of any slaves or slaveholders described in those records must be disclosed in the affidavit.

Excerpt from City Council’s Slavery Era Business/Corporate Insurance Disclosure Bill.

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