De Beers concerned about 'distorted' report

De Beers is concerned about what it calls a “distorted” and “inaccurate” depiction of the diamond industry in Botswana, it said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the world’s largest diamond miner said the Bench Marks Foundation’s report entitled Corporate Social Responsibility in the Diamond Mining Industry in Botswana: De Beers, Botswana and the Control of a Country neither reflected its experience in Botswana nor the findings of numerous reputable independent studies.

Presenting its report in Johannesburg on Wednesday, the Bench Mark Foundation—an independent organisation monitoring corporate performance in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR)—said that Botswana was severely water stressed.

“This situation is aggravated by mining, which is by far the dominant industry in the country,” it said.

The foundation claimed a former geologist at Debswana (a joint venture between the government of Botswana and De Beers) had said that open cast mines required dewatering the surrounding areas to effect a drop in the water-table that would allow the mining operation to operate in dry conditions.

Diamond mines were run on a continuous basis and therefore any interruption jeopardised production and economic viability, the foundation said.

“It is exactly this obsession with continuous production that causes mining corporations to become slack regarding environmental issues,” it said.

“Nothing is said about this in Debswana’s report for 2007 about negative environmental incidents, whether such incidents impacted on production, or placed workers and residents of mining towns or neighbouring communities at risk,” said the foundation’s chief executive John Capel.

Foundation chairman Bishop Jo Seoka called upon Botswana’s government to diversify its economy to enable the country to become sustainable in a post-diamond mining era, “particularly as resource projections suggest that the country will run out of diamonds by 2029”.

He criticised Botswana’s failure to capitalise on its option to beneficiate (cutting and polishing) at least 10% of rough diamonds locally.

“Until very recently, De Beers actively blocked any attempts by Botswana to beneficiate its own diamonds,” Seoka said.

The foundation also claimed that the government of Botswana had been heavy-handed in its dealings with the Basarwa communities in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).

“This uneasy relationship has been exacerbated by Botswana’s rapidly expanding mining industry and water shortage problems,” the foundation said.

“The question of water and mining took a further ominous turn when the Gana Kwi Kwe San communities in the CKGR won a long drawn out legal battle in December 2006 against their forced removal to make way for mining,” Capel stated.

He added that the Botswana government responded in “a typically totalitarian manner” to the community’s victory by smashing wells and boreholes leaving them without water.

In response to the report, De Beers said that beyond “a handful of reportedly anonymous interviews” and a lower than five percent response rate to a questionnaire, the authors of the report did not interview De Beers or Debswana management or government officials.

“They also do not reference any company documentation other than annual reports,” De Beers said.—Sapa

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