Slavery Disclosure Laws: For Financial Reparations or for “Telling the Truth?”

Thursday, January 1st, 2009 at 12:00 am by Jason Levy
Jason Levy, Slavery Disclosure Laws: For Financial Reparations or for “Telling the Truth?”, 2009 Colum. Bus. L. Rev. 468

The loss of a city contract–in this case, a lucrative contract–is the only penalty prescribed by the Chicago Slavery Disclosure Ordinance for failure to accurately disclose ties to slavery. Reflecting on this outcome, Dorothy Tillman, the sponsor of the Chicago Slavery Disclosure Ordinance, summarized the message of the legislation: “It says to other companies: If you tell the truth, there is no penalty. If you lie, there is.” This statement implies that the only purpose of slavery disclosure laws is to encourage corporations to research and then truthfully disclose any ties that these companies or their predecessors had to slavery. Yet, slavery disclosure laws also serve another purpose–to identify corporations that had ties to slavery in order to bring civil suits against them, as a means of securing financial reparations for slavery. While both of these two purposes seek to promote a broad goal of the modern African-American reparations movement–to bring past injustices to light and to correct present injustice– which of these two purposes predominates inevitably shapes the assessment of slavery disclosure laws. This Note evaluates slavery disclosure laws by focusing on whether the promotion of truthful disclosures or the facilitation of reparations lawsuits can reduce racial inequality stemming from slavery. Through this evaluation and an analysis of the structure of recent slavery disclosure laws, this Note seeks to provide guidance to a city or state government considering such legislation.

Author Information

Columbia University Law School, J.D. Candidate 2009.