St. Petersburg approves resolution to keep conflict minerals out of future tech purchases

ST. PETERSBURG — Every year, the city spends about $1 million on technology equipment.

Before a deal is signed, the city wants to know several things about the companies vying for contracts, including information about finances, warranties and durability of the items.

Soon, officials will ask an additional question: whether the company's products contain conflict minerals.

"As we enter into these agreements we want to be sure that our vendors will be complying," said Louis Moore, the city's director of purchasing. "If they're not, we would recommend that we not do business with them."

Conflict minerals, similar to blood diamonds, are mined in war-torn regions rife with human rights violations, especially Central Africa. The minerals, including tin, tungsten and tantalum derived from them, are frequently used in things like cell phones and laptops.

But human rights advocates say the minerals also fund armed groups committing violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which some have called the rape capital of the world.

The mention of conflict minerals in purchasing agreements, solidified by a resolution recently approved by the City Council, is new for St. Petersburg.

City Council member Steve Kornell championed the issue this summer and spearheaded a push for the city to shun companies using conflict minerals in their products. The City Council approved a resolution 5-3 last month.

"We are only the second city in the United States to do so," Kornell said. "The greatest respect we can give to people like Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi and others who stood up for human rights is to take their lessons and apply them right now. … I'm proud of this. I'm proud of our city."

Last spring, Pittsburgh also passed a resolution calling for companies to take steps to remove conflict minerals from their supply chains.

Kornell hadn't heard of the issue until representatives of the Enough Project brought it to his attention several months ago.

The Enough Project, headquartered in Washington, D.C., and connected to the Center for American Progress, works to prevent genocide and human rights violations.

Matt Brown, a spokesman, said the organization hopes other cities follow St. Petersburg's lead.

"We're hoping it has some teeth with purchasing decisions," Brown said. "And even if it doesn't, it's so symbolic. People are saying even though this issue is far away … we care."

Kornell said it was an easy cause to embrace.

"We were able to piggyback on all this infrastructure already set in place by the federal government," Kornell said, referring to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

The law, passed last year, contains a provision requiring companies to report whether minerals they use originate from the Congo.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is crafting the rules and regulations that will govern the law.

Moore, who said the city's $1 million in technology purchases go toward things like cell phones, computers and other equipment, said the resolution won't be tough to implement.

"It's really not going to cost anything," he said. "This will just be one other thing we ask of companies."

He said many of the companies the city buys electronics from, including Dell and Motorola, already are taking steps toward ridding their products of conflict minerals.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com of (727) 893-8643.

ON THE WEB

Learn more about the fight against conflict minerals at www.enoughproject.org

St. Petersburg approves resolution to keep conflict minerals out of future tech purchases 11/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 5:14pm]

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