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GPSA passed BDS reform, boycotts several international businesses

The bill enacts a full or partial boycott from GPSA on Starbucks, Burger King and Amazon. The bill could still be vetoed by the GPSA president


A Starbucks sign hangs outside of the coffee shop's Taylor Place location in downtown Phoenix on Wednesday, March 2, 2022.

The Graduate and Professional Student Association passed a resolution and a bill last week enacting a boycott against many national companies, including Starbucks and Amazon, in accordance with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions guidelines.

The bill, AB 22-36, is titled "An act to stand in solidarity with Indigenous Sovereignty" and the resolution, AR 22-03, is titled "A resolution in support and solidarity with Indigenous Peoples." The bill and resolution were introduced by five Graduate Assembly members, along with student organizations including Mecha de ASU, National Lawyers Guild at ASU and Students for Justice in Palestine at ASU.

Both actions were passed on Friday, but it is up for a veto from GPSA President Megan McCaughan until Friday, Feb. 23.

On its website, The BDS movement says it "works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law."

The bill enacts a boycott of several fast food chains including Starbucks, Domino's and Burger King. Starbucks is especially significant, with its multiple locations on campus and partnership with ASU Online, called the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. The program offers full scholarships that cover tuition and fees to select Starbucks employees so they can attend ASU Online.

McCaughan said based on what the authors of the bill have said, this legislation will not explicitly impact any existing scholarships, but "organizations on these lists, like Starbucks, could choose to adjust their funding contributions in response to the legislation." 

It also enacts a partial boycott against Amazon, HP, Siemens and other international businesses "where an alternative is available." Funds will be approved on a "case-by-case" basis if one of the partial boycott businesses are needed.

GPSA parliamentarian Michael Kintscher said this was to avoid an undue burden on students. 

"We don't want to stop our students from being able to do anything," they said. "Because we know some of our students do rely on some of these vendors like Amazon, and they are quite large vendors."

In a written statement, McCaughan said this bill is not just about Palestine, Israel, and the conflict in Gaza, but it is also about Indigenous populations in Arizona. She said the legislation looks to address this need by advocating for a boycott of products associated with actions that negatively impact these communities.

"The bill's authors and contributors, along with just over half of the GPSA Assembly, were interested in enhancing support for Indigenous populations, both at home and abroad, through this piece of legislation," McCaughan said in a written statement.

She said the legislation was passed to mitigate harm to Indigenous communities. The bill states that Palestinians are Indigenous to Levant, which includes "the Occupied Territories, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip."

"The authors (of the bill) concluded that the most effective approach to stop ASU's unintentional support of Indigenous harm was mainly by withdrawing financial support from companies deemed to have been involved in exploitation or harm," McCaughan said.

In the passing of this bill, one of the main reasons for concern, according to Kintscher, was a state law from 2016 prohibiting public entities from BDS policies. However, Kintscher said they brought in legal experts and the legislation passed on Friday is "in the clear." They said the law does not apply to student governments, as they are "legally separate" from public entities, like ASU. 

"I know that was a big, big concern that was raised and the other procedural thing of course, was just over what authority GPSA has, and we are given authority by the University to oversee a certain amount of funds, and I know that the bill does only apply to those funds. So, it was within our jurisdiction basically," Kintscher said.

McCaughan said in a written statement that the legislation is "good intentioned," and that other student governments will take a "wait-and-see" approach to this kind of action to see how it works when implemented.

GPSA joins the student government at UC Davis in passing legislation in accordance with BDS guidelines.

Bryce Askew, a junior studying chemical engineering and a member of Young Democratic Socialists of America at ASU, said he is hopeful that other branches of student government at ASU will take similar action.

"I think it's a good first step in getting the University to work on this long-term, and I think it'll be a big impact on how (the) University operates," he said. "I also very much like that the authors of the bill did a very good job at trying to make sure that all of the potential problems with it were addressed." 

Kintscher said this legislation will simply add another question on a form and only applies to anything purchased from the corporations listed in the bill and resolution. They compared the new legislation to sustainability restrictions or the ASU-approved vendors list, which they said was hotly debated before becoming more of a norm in terms of acquiring GPSA funding. 

McCaughan said in a written statement she is unsure how graduate students at ASU will respond to the bill's passage. She said some in the Graduate Assembly raised concerns about GPSA getting into international politics and about whether graduate student organizations will feel forced to participate in the boycott. 

"As we heard in our Assembly meeting, not every graduate student may be happy with the idea of being restricted from holding events at or catering food from places like Starbucks," she said in a written statement. "However, others still argue that the larger goals justify these actions. It's possible that the response from the graduate community could resemble the increasing tensions we're seeing on the global stage." 

Edited by Grey Gartin, Alysa Horton and Angelina Steel.

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Shane BrennanEditor-in-Chief

Shane Brennan is the Editor-in-Chief at The State Press. He was a sports and politics reporter, before becoming the editor of the politics desk. He has covered local and state politics for the Arizona Capitol Times and Cronkite News.

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