Miami Gardens won't do business with companies that do business with Sudan and Iran. That's the decision adopted unanimously by the city's council earlier this month.
The decision on March 12 made Miami Gardens one of 16 U.S. cities, and the third Florida city (along with Miami Beach and Palm Beach Gardens) to adopt a resolution prohibiting the investment of municipal funds in companies doing business in Sudan.
Florida became the first state to move toward divestment when Gov. Charlie Crist signed the Protecting Florida's Investments Act into law in June 2007. The law requires the State Board of Administration, which administers the state's pension fund, to identify holdings in companies that do business with Iran or Sudan's energy sectors, and to divest from such companies if they fail to sever their ties.
Twenty-three other states have followed suit, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont.
The move to incorporate the state policy into the investment practices of Florida's largest majority-black city was led by Council Member André Williams, who calls Iran and Sudan “terrorist states” that should be shunned by the international and investment communities.
A growing threat
“Iran is a growing nuclear threat and a threat to our national security,” Williams said. “I've traveled to Israel and the Middle East, so I have specific knowledge of Iran and its threat to our children and our grandchildren. We should not be supporting companies that do business with a terrorist state.”
U.S. companies are banned from doing business in or with Iran, but more than 400 international companies – and some foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies, do.
Regarding Sudan, which Williams describes as “an incredible threat to humanity,” the councilman says the Islamic government in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, is “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Diaspora refugees” in Darfur.
Sudan has been mired in a civil war since 2003 that killed more than 400,000 and displaced some 2 million people in the first two years, according to a 2005 analysis by the Washington-based Coalition for International Justice and researchers from Northwestern and Toronto Universities.
Many Darfur residents blame the Sudanese government for backing an Arab militia, the Janjaweed, which is accused of killing scores of Africans in the rebellious western province, and driving more than 200,000 into neighboring Chad.
“The [Sudanese] government is supporting militias who are committing genocide unlike any we've seen in my lifetime,” the 40-year-old Democrat says, reflecting the characterization of the violence in the Darfur region by the U.S. House of Representatives, which passed a unanimous resolution in July 2004 declaring that the violence in Darfur amounted to genocide.
President Bush echoed that characterization in September of that year, and three years later, on December 31, 2007, Bush signed the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act, which authorizes state and local governments to divest assets in companies that conduct business operations in Sudan and which bars such companies from receiving federal contracts.
Even before the official acts, organizations like the Sudan Investment Task Force and the Save Darfur Coalition, which has a branch in South Florida, have urged divestment by universities, city and state pension funds, religious organizations and institutional investors as a way to pressure the government in Khartoum.
Williams cites his longstanding relationship with the Jewish community as part of the reason for his strong stance on Iran and Darfur. Kelley Whiter, community outreach director for the American Jewish Committee, which is part of the Save Darfur Coalition, worked with him to craft the Miami Gardens resolution.
“Our organization has on its agenda [addressing] the genocide in Darfur; raising awareness and taking action nationally and locally,” says Whiter, who adds that Iran and Darfur should be issues of concern “to everyone regardless of race or religion.”
The AJC is pushing for similar resolutions in other cities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
“By passing the resolution, the city of Miami Gardens told everyone that the city is opposed to terrorism and genocide and made a very important statement to South Florida and the world.”
Targeting companies with Sudan ties
Florida is one of 16 states that utilize the Sudan Divestment Task Force divestment model. The organization publishes a quarterly report listing companies it says merit consideration for divestment. The Task Force web site describes companies as meriting investor “scrutiny” if they maintain a direct business relationship with Khartoum (i.e., through a government contract or government-created project), if their activities in Sudan provide little benefit to the disadvantaged populations there, and if they fail to develop business practices that acknowledge the fact that they may be “inadvertently contributing to the Sudanese government's genocidal capacity.”
According to the Task Force, the majority of companies it targets are in the oil, mineral extraction and power industries, and the organization's most recent report, dated Feb. 28, lists 15 Chinese, Malaysian and Indian oil and energy companies among its “highest offenders,” including the China National Petroleum Corpora-tion, plus six European and one Kuwaiti firm. Among companies the Task Force lists as “concerning,” but not yet meriting divestment, are the UK's Rolls Royce, which has reportedly pledged to withdraw from Sudan, Japan's Nippon Oil, and a U.S. oilfield service company named Weatherford International, Ltd., which reportedly has pledged to cease Sudanese operations within 12 months.
Miami Gardens isn't holding any such investments, opting instead for CDs and other safe, traditional instruments, so the city's move is mostly symbolic. Indeed, most of the companies targeted by organizations like the Task Force would seem obscure – even exotic – to most Americans, though Williams insists that the divestment issue is neither.
"It's important that we act locally and continue to provide excellent customer service to our residents [in Miami Gardens],” he said. “And I take that responsibility very seriously. But we also have a responsibility to the larger community, and we should be more knowledgeable about national security issues like this. I think the residents of Miami Gardens are going to appreciate our proactivity with respect to these important global issues.”
For more information on the Sudan Divestment Task Force, visit sudandivestment.org.
To find the State Board of Administration online, visit www.-sbafla.com.
Photo: Miami Gardens Council Member Andre Williams