By: Michael Lipari
Leon Sullivan was an African American who grew up questioning the practices of segregation. From a young age he rebelled against it, fighting with a store owner who told him he could not sit at a counter, and he not only won against that store owner, but earned himself a free meal. In his adult life he made several attempts to improve working and living conditions for African Americans as well as South Africans affected by the practices of apartheid. He had been working on the board of directors of General Motors and decided to use that power to aid in the bettering of working conditions for blacks across the globe. He developed his Sullivan Principles. These rules of running a business demanded equal working conditions and pay for all races. Many business adopted these rules, including ones that functioned in South Africa. Sullivan hoped that these changes in conditions would coerce the South American government into disestablishing apartheid. While the success of this endeavor was limited, Sullivan continued to progress. He took part in the Millennium Summit which sought to improve education and medical care, promote agriculture and foreign investment, as well as basic business and economic development. The Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 incorporated the Sullivan Principles, effectively banning racist practices in American based companies across the globe. In 1999 Sullivan unveiled the Global Sullivan Principles, which expanded the rules of the Sullivan Principles to business of all sizes. These principles helped to develop equal opportunity business in an unequal time.
Leon Sullivan was able to effectively pressure the South African government and spread equal working conditions to a racially divided country. Sullivan’s influence in General Motors and support from other companies he gained through the Sullivan Principles allowed him to pressure the apartheid system. The new policies of the American companies in South Africa contrasted with the segregated system. The Anti-Apartheid Act prohibited segregation in businesses, something that was the core of apartheid. American companies were now following different laws than South Africa, so the companies that did business there could be used as an attempt to persuade the South African government to end apartheid. Some companies even halted business that was crucial to South Africa. If South Africa was to maintain business, they would have to adjust their laws and put an end to apartheid. The business that were crucial to them were no longer cooperating thanks to the Sullivan Principles.
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