Companies Divesting From Iran, Darfur Get Federal Help

The House voted Tuesday to give legal protections to investors and state and local governments who decide to curtail investments in international corporations doing business in Iran and Sudan.

The bills, now heading to the Senate, provide safe harbor from lawsuits to managers of mutual funds and pension funds who divest funds from companies that invest more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector or in businesses that support Sudan's policies in Darfur.

The bills, said Finance Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass, will "empower Americans, in their individual capacities, through their state governments, through organizations, to express in a concrete way the overwhelming opposition in our country" to the genocide in Darfur and to Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapons capacity.

The votes were 418-1 on Darfur and 408-6 on Iran divestment.

Under both bills, the federal government is to periodically update a list of companies that do business with Sudan or Iran's energy sector. They note that while U.S. companies are already barred from involvement in Sudan or Iran's energy sector, many Americans are unaware of the business connections of the foreign companies they invest in.

The bills allow state and local governments to divest the assets of their pension funds and other funds under their control from any company on the list.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., sponsor of the Darfur measure, said 54 universities and 19 states have already taken steps to divest funds from companies investing in Sudan to protest the violence there that has killed some 400,000 people. She said the bill would also bar the federal government from renewing and signing contracts with multinationals doing business with the Khartoum government.

The Iran bill focuses on those international corporations investing at least $20 million in Iran's energy sector, selling munitions to Iran or extending credit of $20 million or more to the Iranian government.

The House separately was voting on a bill to expand existing sanctions on Iran to include business in that nation's liquefied natural gas and petrochemical industries. It makes export credit agencies, insurers and other financial institutions subject to sanctions for investment in Iran's energy industry.

"Responsible nations must immediately stop their multimillion, and in some cases billion, dollar investments in Iran's energy sector," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the sponsor.