Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg considers avoiding 'conflict minerals' that support violence against women in Congo

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council member Steve Kornell had heard of blood diamonds. The issue of "conflict minerals," though, was new.

That the minerals help to finance armed groups that perpetuate sexual violence against girls and women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — the rape capital of the world, according to a U.N. official — galvanized Kornell into action.

He is proposing that St. Petersburg adopt a resolution to avoid products containing conflict minerals — specifically tin, tungsten and tantalum derived from them, and gold — mined in the war-torn Central African nation.

If Kornell's effort is successful, the city would shun cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices manufactured with the minerals advocates say help instigate mass rape and slaughter of countless civilians.

"This is something I believe in very deeply,'' he said. "I see it as a human issue, not a political issue. I know this is the right thing to do."

Students from Eckerd College and a representative from the Enough Project, a national organization that works to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity, gave a presentation about the issue during a recent council meeting.

"The reaction was a little mixed,'' Kornell said, but a majority of his colleagues voted to send the matter to the city's Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee for further discussion.

A resolution addressing conflict minerals could make St. Petersburg only the second city in the nation to take up the concern. In April, Pittsburgh passed a resolution that, among other things, called on electronic companies to take steps to remove conflict minerals from their supply chain.

The cause also is gaining traction in California, where a senate committee has approved a measure that would deny companies state procurement contracts for failing to comply with federal regulations regarding conflict minerals.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law last summer, includes a provision requiring companies whose products contain gold, tin, tungsten or tantalum to disclose whether they originate in Congo or neighboring countries.

"If they do, then they have to spell out the steps they're going to take to ensure that their supply chains are not funding the conflict,'' said Matt Brown, a spokesman for the Enough Project.

As yet, regulations governing the law have not been finalized by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Advocates liken the campaign to ban conflict minerals to efforts such as those that brought attention to the issue of blood diamonds — also involving human rights abuses — and calls for divestment from apartheid-era South Africa.

Kornell said he became aware of the conflict minerals issue attending a talk by John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project.

"As I started looking into it, I found out about the federal requirement and in talking to John, I said, we really should make that a part of our policy,'' he said.

"It's a very simple process to piggy back on what the federal government has done. I think the next logical step is for the city of St. Petersburg, if (companies) say, no, we are not complying, we should not purchase their products.''

Kornell has a supporter in council member Karl Nurse.

"I think we vote with our wallet every day and so my thought is how we spend money really reflects our values,'' Nurse said.

"There are a lot of details to be worked out, clearly. If we have the ability along with other governments and universities to make it more difficult to finance internal wars and the violence that surrounds it, then we should take that opportunity.''

Pittsburgh City Council member Douglas Shields, the main sponsor of that city's conflict minerals resolution, has a similar philosophy.

"This is about raising awareness and I think, as human beings, we have an obligation about these things,'' he said.

Last year, the Enough Project released a report ranking 21 major electronics companies in five categories, including the tracing and auditing of conflict minerals — the 3Ts and gold in activists' parlance — in their products and their legislative support.

"Our objective is to encourage companies at the top of the minerals supply chain to use their buying power to influence their suppliers, exerting pressure down the supply chain,'' stated the report, "Getting to Conflict Free: Assessing Corporate Action on Conflict Minerals."

Tracing the minerals that end up in electronics could be complex. Conflict minerals are smuggled from eastern Congo to neighboring countries and moved to Asia, where they can be smelted with ores from other countries before being turned into essential components for electronic products such as cell phones and laptops.

"We're not asking people to boycott electronics, just to be mindful that the minerals that go into their electronics, a lot of those minerals come from Congo and a lot of those minerals are being used to fund mass rapes and mass atrocities,'' Brown said.

According to the Enough Project report, companies making the most progress toward conflict-free minerals are HP, Intel, Motorola, Nokia, Microsoft and Dell.

"I really think as the companies become more educated on this issue they will comply,'' Kornell said.

"I don't fault anybody for not being aware, because I myself was not aware.''

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or (727) 892-2283.

. fast facts

How 'conflict minerals' are used in electronic devices

Tin — as solder on circuit boards

Tantalum — stores electricity and is essential to portable electronics such as cell phones

Tungsten — enables cell phone vibration alerts

Gold — in wiring electronic devices, including cell phones and laptop computers

Source: Enough Project (

St. Petersburg considers avoiding 'conflict minerals' that support violence against women in Congo 05/31/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 3:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. College World Series puts Florida Gators in elite company


    With Tuesday night's College World Series win, the Florida Gators put themselves in rare company.

    Florida celebrates after defeating LSU in Game 2 of the College World Series finals, Tuesday, in Omaha, Neb.
  2. Pinellas sees spike in infant deaths from unsafe sleeping, and advocates are concerned


    The reports from the Department of Children and Families are tragic: A Pinellas County mother falls asleep on a recliner during an early morning feeding and wakes to find one of her 3-month-old twins unresponsive. Another finds her 6-month-old daughter lying still, a blanket over her head. Another infant is found wedged …

    Advocates are looking to step up their public information efforts this year after reports show a spike in sleep-related infant deaths in Pinellas County. []
  3. Kellyanne Conway warns of health care spin, but then delivers her own in Miami


    On the same day that Senate Republicans were forced to delay a vote on their healthcare legislation because not enough of them wanted to vote for it, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the bill in Miami.

    White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway is welcomed by state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-District 105, at the Miami-Dade GOP’s Lincoln Day fundraiser on Tuesday night.
  4. Sign up for our new daily News at Noon email newsletter


    The Tampa Bay Times will soon launch a daily newsletter called News at Noon. You can make sure to be among the first to receive it by signing up now.

  5. New poll shows tight St. Pete mayor's race


    A new poll shows a tight race between former mayor Rick Baker and Mayor Rick Kriseman, currently engaged in the most expensive mayoral race in St. Petersburg history. 

    Former Mayor Rick Baker answers a question during the mayoral candidate forum at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday. Mayor Rick Kriseman is in the foreground.