Written testimony by Frances Jeffries regarding HB 2636 and Senate Bill 1735 to the meeting on June 9, 2021 of the Joint Committee on Public Service
House Chair Gordon, Senate Chair Brady
Every day each of us is inundated with an extraordinary amount of information and misinformation. One of the ways that we process, sort and organize all of this is through conversations with others who share a commitment to living with integrity and to participating in forming sound decisions which strengthen our communities.
I support the remarks made by Paul Shannon and others from Massachusetts Peace Action. I appreciate the opportunity for all of us to consider together the support of House Bill 2636 and Senate Bill 1735, which would require divestment of the Massachusetts pension plan from all stocks and other obligations of companies selling weapons to Saudi Arabia – unless such companies announce within 30 days that they will not renew or enter into arms contracts.
I will focus on two major considerations.
First, I would ask how you can endorse active engagement in creating a crisis that violates all international and humanitarian codes in actions that result in the immediate and long-term deaths of civilians. Second, let us examine the minimal financial impact which a change in investments would make.
The Saudi-led war in Yemen is a tragedy of epic proportions that has caused civilian deaths, mass starvation and a raging cholera epidemic. Reputable aid organizations have declared Yemen to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis because of the ongoing war. At the end of 2020 UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that Yemen was in “imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen for decades”. The head of UNICEF said the country was facing “an imminent catastrophe”
The taxpayers of Massachusetts, represented by this Committee and other elected officials, directly support these horrific acts.
As of March 31, 2021, the pension plan held about $240 million in the securities of the four largest manufacturers of these weapons — Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin.
While this is certainly a large amount of money, it is only a fraction of the pension plan’s total portfolio.
These companies sell the Saudis massive quantities of expensive guided bombs and other high-tech weapons that play a key role in the thousands of deaths and physical destruction responsible for widespread outbreaks of infectious diseases and starvation in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia could not carry on its war without the weapons that U.S. arms manufacturers sell them by the billions. It is a war that leads to immediate disasters such as indiscriminate bombing, killing thousands of civilians in attacks on farms, factories, hospitals, marketplaces, weddings a funeral and even a school bus that killed 40 children. It is a war that not only kills hundreds of thousands, but, according to the UN Humanitarian Office (OCHA), leaves countless others dying from starvation, disease, economic collapse and now COVID.
Massachusetts must look inside its own house. Raytheon Technologies is headquartered in Waltham and has manufacturing plants and other major facilities in Burlington, Andover, Cambridge, Woburn, Tewksbury, Billerica and Marlborough. Its weapons, technology, deepening relationship with the brutal Saudi regime and influence in the U.S. government have helped make war crimes possible in Yemen. Two of the last three U.S. Secretaries of Defense have been top Raytheon officials.
It is irresponsible and morally incomprehensible for us to take any action that supports or approves the manufacture and distribution of products which lead directly to such atrocities.
The taxpayers of Massachusetts, represented by this Committee and other elected officials, are responsible for and capable of stopping these horrific acts. We can and must choose to withdraw all investments by the pension funds in these companies. The action must not be deferred.
One simple step. A legacy for good. We can do this. Now.