Eastman Kodak Withdraws from Apartheid South Africa


In May 1986 I represented the American Committee on Africa at the International Conference on the United Nations Arms Embargo Against South Africa in London.  At that conference, Frene Ginwala, then Head of Political Research for the African National Congress (ANC), gave me a copy of the program for the International Congress on High Speed Photography and Photonics scheduled to be in September in Pretoria, South Africa.  The International Congress was organized by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the South African Optical Society.  CSIR, a government run agency, involved in both strategic and military research.  U.S. government regulations prohibited sales to CRIS for its “weapons research.”  The South African organizing committee included R. Krohn of Kodak (SA) Pty. Ltd., the South African subsidiary of Eastman Kodak.


When I returned to New York I gave a copy of the program to the Daily News.  At that time New York City had recently adopted a limited selective purchasing law giving preference is granting of City contracts to companies that did not do business with the South African police, military, prisons or Department of Cooperation and Development.  (New York City subsequently strengthened its selective purchasing legislation.)  Kodak, which had less than $10,000 of such sales, almost lost an $8 million contract with the city.  The city granted Eastman Kodak the contract when the company promised not to make any such sales in the future.  Thus the revelation of Kodak’s participation in the International Congress on High Speed Photography and Photonics was a major embarrassment.  CSIR was involved in both civilian and military research for the government.  Kodak promptly withdrew from the High Speed Photography conference.


In November 1986 Eastman Kodak announced that it was withdrawing from South Africa.  It shut down it operations and cut off sales of film to the country.  This was a much more complete withdrawal than that of many other companies which maintained licensing and franchising agreement.  Although Kodak claimed South Africa’s weak economy was a major factor in its decision, I believe the facts point to the pressure from the anti-apartheid movement was determinate.  Companies such as Eastman Kodak rarely leave a country.  Clearly Kodak decided that its business with U.S. states and cities was more important than its business in South Africa.


In January 1988 Eastman Kodak purchased Sterling Drug which had a South African subsidiary.  In July 1988 Sterling Drug sold its South African subsidiary to Adcock Ingram announced that it would no longer supply its former subsidiary. 


The following articles in the Daily News, the Rochester Times Union and the Wall Street Journal show the progression of events from June 1986 to November 1986.


Eastman Kodak returned to South Africa after the end of apartheid.  Frene Ginwala is now the speaker in the National Assembly of the Parliament of South Africa.


Richard Knight, December 2002



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NEW YORK’S PICTURE NEWSPAPER®   Sunday June 16, 1986


City board wrestles with apartheid



Daily News Staff Writers

For the first time since the passage of a new city law, the Board of Estimate tomorrow must decide whether to spend extra money to avoid awarding a contract to a company that has done business with the South African military.

Mayor Koch, who has two votes on the board, said he won’t decide how to vote until he receives a recommendation today from Corporation Council Frederick Schwartz.  Meanwhile, Schwartz said the company that did business with South Africa is still in the running for the contract.

Under a law passed last July, companies seeking city business must sign an agreement stating that they have not done business in at least a year with the South African police, military, prison system or “department of cooperation and development.”

Last November, Eastman Kodak submitted the lowest bid for delivery of high-speed copiers.  However, company officials were unable to sign the agreement, Swartz said, because Kodak had sold less than $10,000 worth of amateur photo equipment at military PXs in South Africa up to Sept. 1.

Kodak’s bid for the city contract was $8,049,000.  The next lowest bid, made by Xerox, was $8,122,000 and Xerox was able to sign the agreement.

The Board of Estimate has two options.  It can choose to ignore the law – known as the South African rider – and give Kodak the contract or it can award the contract to the next lowest bidder, Xerox.

Schwartz, noting that Kodak had not done business with the South African agencies in the last nine months, said the city is considering giving the contract to the company despite its current inability to sign the agreement.

Saying the care represents a “close call,” Schwartz said “It is relevant that Kodak was candid to the city and voluntarily came forward with the $10,000 worth of sales.”

City Council Majority Leader Peter Vallone (D-Queens), one of the prime sponsors of the law, said, “There is no question that the Board of Estimate should hold to the letter of the law if everything else is equal.”

Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins, the only black member of the Board of Estimate, said he could not comment on which company should get the contract until his office had gathered all the facts.




NEW YORK’S PICTURE NEWSPAPER®   Sunday June 29, 1986

Exposure chagrins Kodak


Daily News Staff Writer.

Photography giant Eastman Kodak Co. was helping organize a South African military-related conference even while promising the city last week it would reject dealings with the segregated nation in return for getting an $8 million contract.

As late as Friday, one of the firm’s South African executives was billed as an organizer for the conference, an international gathering to discuss uses of high-speed photography, including its “military applications.”

A brochure for the five-day Pretoria conference promises a session on “ballistics, shockwave and detonation studies,” including papers on high-speed photography of detonation fuses and the use of advanced technology to capture the velocity of explosions on film.

Kodak spokesman Ian Guthrie confirmed the company’s involvement, but said the firm had not tried to deceive the city.  “It’s embarrassing.  We just learned about this particular today and we are withdrawing from it immediately,” he said Friday.

It was Kodak’s sale of film to South African military stores last year that nearly cost the firm its $8 million low-bid agreement to supply the city with high speed copiers last week.  The sales clashed with a 1985 city law requiring contractors to certify they’ve done no business with the South African Army, police, prison system or Department of Cooperation and Development within the last 12 months.

The Board of Estimate unanimously approved the contract June 17 after Kodak officials pledged in writing to go beyond the city law by rejecting all business with the South African government.

Exposure of Kodak’s military-related business in the racially segregated nation even after the contract approval left apartheid critics angry and city officials nonplussed.

“This is not something innocuous.  We’re not talking about people going about with cameras taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower here.  We’re talking about military uses of photography,” said Richard Knight, a researcher for the anti-apartheid American Committee on Africa.

Discussing the development during a lull in city budget negotiations Friday, Board of Estimate members said they were pleased with the firm’s pledge to boycott the conference.  Still, several officials said they might demand that Kodak outline a corporate anti-apartheid stance in a letter to company employees worldwide.



Rochester, N.Y., Thursday, July 3, 1986

Apartheid’s shadow on photo group

By Business Editor JOHN RUMSEY

In Toronto and in Strasbourg and in Moscow and all the other places, it was a typical scientific conference — a few hundred scientists and engineers from dozens of countries gathering to swap ideas about their specialty: high speed photography.

Similar international meetings bring together experts on heart surgery and astronomy and cattle breeding.

But this year, the 17th International Congress on High Speed Photography and Photonics, scheduled for Sept 1-5, has run into trouble.

THE REASON: it’s being held in Pretoria, South Africa.

o  Eastman Kodak Co. abruptly withdrew its support last week after learning that a Kodak employee in South Africa was on the organizing committee.

o  International terrorism and reactions to the U.S. bombing of Libya made some people, especially Americans, reluctant to risk the plane trip.

o  South Africa’s suppression of non-whites caused the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China to boycott the congress and also discouraged an unknown number of people from other countries.

Among those who are staying home is Martin C. Richardson, a senior scientist at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics.

But this is not meant as “a statement” about South Africa, said Richardson, who has contributed papers to the biennial congress since the early 1970s and was chairman of the 1976 session in Toronto.

NO ONE instructed him not to go, he said.  “South Africa is a long, way away.  It’s expensive to go there.  I could not justify it from the funds available to me” from the U.S. government.  He recently attended a major international conference on lasers in California.

Richardson regrets not going — “This is the main international meeting covering high-speed photography.”  He doesn’t have too many opportunities to talk with people to whom high-speed photography means not 1/1000 of a second, but up to one quadrillionth of a second.

In Kodak’s case, the decision was swift.  “We learned about it Friday,” spokesman Henry J. Kaska said.  “We immediately announced our withdrawal from any participation whatsoever.”

Kodak is acutely sensitive to South African matters.  Last month it appeared to be in danger of losing an $8 million order for copiers from New York City because a year-old ordinance forbids city contracts with companies that supply products to South Africa’s military, police or prisons.  Kodak had sold some amateur film and cameras for resale in African post exchanges last July.  But it saved the New York contract by promising city officials there’d be no such slip-ups in the future.

Kaska said one representative of Spin Physics, a California-based Kodak subsidiary that produces high-speed photography systems, had planned to attend, but won’t.  Other sources said Spin Physics had exhibits at previous congresses but would not have anything at Pretoria.

MAIN GOALS of the congress, besides exchanging information and fostering general interest in high-speed photography, are promoting its use in mining and biomedical fields.  But the systems that analyze rock-breaking explosions in a mine might also analyze explosions for military purposes.

For anti-apartheid organizations, an international event in South Africa means another opportunity to apply pressure.

Richard Knight, a researcher at the American Committee on Africa in New York City, learned of the congress and noted that a Kodak employee was on the host committee.  Mindful of Kodak’s recent scrape with the New York City law, Knight called up the New York Daily News last week and gave the information to a reporter, Kevin McCoy.

MCCOY CALLED city officials and Kodak.  City officials also called Kodak.  Kodak speedily separated itself from the congress.

Knight was pleased.  “We’re not talking about people going about taking pictures of the Eiffel tower here.  We’re talking about military uses of photography.”

He said he didn’t bother to call The New York Times or other papers; “I saw this as a Daily News type of story.”

The American Committee on Africa, he said, wants the congress to shift its meeting to some other country and bar South Africans from attending.

Dennis L. Paisley, official U.S. delegate to the congress, said the politicization of a non-political event was regrettable but not surprising.

A laser scientist at the Los Alamos (N.M.) National Laboratory, he said he submitted two papers – neither related to chemical or nuclear explosives.

IN 15 YEARS of attending congresses, “I’ve never seen any papers related to weapons design or how to make a better weapon,” he said.

“When people hear ‘Los Alamos,’ they think of atomic bombs.  I’m not playing it down; we do that.  I’m not the least bit ashamed.  I tell people I’ll be glad to go out on the street and find another job as soon as the world agrees to disarm.”

China was favored when delegates met four years ago to decide the 1986 site.  But the Chinese bid wasn’t ready and a South African delegate stepped forward to propose his own country.  Two years ago, China submitted a bid but the South Africa committee had made so much progress, “we didn’t want to pull the rug out from under them,” said William Hyzer of Janesville, Wis., a photographic consultant who will give the keynote address.  “In retrospect, I’m sure they’d be happier if we had.”

He said China had been chosen as the site in 1988.  But some of the scientists are worried that their congress is on the decline because of political pressures from outside.  Low attendance could doom it.



Thursday, November 20, 1986

Kodak to Close South Africa Operations

And Ban Units From Supplying Nation

By clare ansberry

Staff Reporter of the wall street journal

Eastman Kodak Co., going further than most major U.S. companies in severing relations with South Africa, said it is shutting down operations there and breaking off all trade with the racially divided nation.

The size of Kodak’s South African unit is small - employing 466 and accounting for less than 1% of the company’ $10 billion sales world-wide - but its move to restrict all its units from supplying South Africa is expected to have a much larger impact.

“People will still buy film and chemicals from Europe and Japan,” said Karen Paul, a management professor at Rochester Institute of Technology who studies apartheid.  “But the idea that a major American business wants absolutely no part of South Africa is going to be a blow.”

As a result of the ban, three of Rochester, N.Y.-based Kodak’s divisions - Verbatim, Atex, and Eastman Chemicals - must stop supplying products such as floppy discs and materials to make cigarette filters to South Africa by April 30.  Atex has been a major supplier of text processing equipment to the publishing industry in South Africa, Kodak said.

Kodak said the assets of Kodak South Africa, a sales division with headquarters in Johannesburg, will be sold.  Employees with “average” length of service will receive a “generous” separation package including one year’s pay and medical coverage for four months, the company said.  Write-offs from terminating the South African operations are expected to be reported in the fourth quarter but wouldn’t “materially impact earnings,” a Kodak spokesman said.

Weak Economy Is Cited

Kodak said South Africa’s weak economy was a major factor in its decision to leave the nation, adding that apartheid has played “a major role in the economy’s underperformance.”  Analysts said Kodak’s operations there were break-even at best.

With its decision Kodak might also gain within the investment community, especially pension funds, university endowments and state governments, which are dropping from their portfolios securities of companies with South African operations.  A growing number of local governments, as well, are refusing to contract with companies that have business in South Africa.

Recently, other major U.S. companies, such as General Motors Corp. and International Business Machines Corp., have shed South African units but continue to sell goods and services to newly independent units they leave behind.

Kodak’s ban on all trade with South Africa will likely provide a rallying point for anti-apartheid activists who have criticized IBM and GM for continuing to supply critical products through third parties.

Kodak in South Africa


446 (61% nonwhite)


Sales and photofinishing labs


Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Durban,



Less than 1% of company’s

$10 worldwide sales


Kodak units


Verbatim – supplier of floppy disks

Eastman Chemicals – supplier of

Products for cigarette filters

Atex – text processing equipment

for publishing.

“Now the onus will be on other companies to explain why they didn’t completely sever ties,” contended Richard Knight, corporate researcher for the American Committee on Africa, a New York based group that has long opposed apartheid.  “Their actions will be a lot less convincing to the universe.”  A few other companies, such as Bell & Howell Co. and Sara Lee Corp., said they will stop supplying South Africa, but Knight believes Kodak’s actions will have greater impact.

Several Previous Moves

Kodak, a signatory to the Sullivan Principles on U.S. corporate conduct in South Africa, has made several moves in the past year to indicate its opposition to apartheid.  It has refused to sell products to several South African government agencies including the police, military and prison systems.  Kodak also led an initiative to launch an ongoing ad campaign pressing the South African government to eliminate apartheid.  The ads, showing a white hand reaching out for a black hand, read: “We must get it together.”  This summer, Kodak withdrew its sponsorship of an international conference on high speed photography after learning it was to be held in South Africa.

“We had hoped that by now the signs in South Africa concerning plans to dismantle statutory apartheid would be clear,” said Colby Chandler, Kodak chairman and chief executive officer.  “Unfortunately, we can not see with any certainty a time when South Africa will be free from apartheid.”

Twenty six U.S. companies have withdrawn from South Africa this year and nine others including Kodak have announced their intention to do so, according to the Investor Responsibility Research Center in Washington.  Another 241 U.S. companies with direct investment remain in South Africa.