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Botswana Government and De Beers Refute NGO Report Accusing Them of Exploiting Locals

24 september 2009

The Bench Marks Foundation, an international church-based NGO focusing on global corporate social responsibility, has published a report that accuses both the government of Botswana and De Beers of marginalizing local communities living in the country's diamond mining areas, Tacy reported.
The report, titled "Corporate Social Responsibility in the Diamond Mining Industry in Botswana: De Beers, Botswana and the Control of a Country," claims that Debwana's operations have not generated benefits at a grassroots level for Botswana's indigenous peoples. The report asserts that local communities are left out of the drafting of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and the creation process of Environmental Management Plans (EMPs); these local communities, according to the report, are also not meaningfully consulted in the granting of prospecting licenses or in the granting of mining licenses.
The Johannesburg-based Bench Marks Foundation claims that the 50:50 shareholding in Debswana by the Botswana government and De Beers has marginalized communities on whose ancestral lands the mining occurs and demands that these communities should receive diamond royalties.
Debswana is also criticized in the report for not recognizing unexploited natural resources as assets of the local communities even though it recognizes them as assets of the country. In Botswana, the mineral rights are owned by the state and all land is managed by the government.
"This study poses a challenge to the diamond companies to improve on their corporate responsibility programmes and to find innovative ways to promote development at community level that addresses some of the negative impacts mining brings," says the Rt. Rev. Dr. Jo Seoka, Chairperson, Bench Marks Foundation, in the report's foreword.
Both the government of Botswana and De Beers issued formal responses to the report in which they adamantly take issue with and refute the report's assertions.
"The government notes with dismay that at no point during their alleged research did any of the report's authors, who are listed as Mr. David van Wyk, Prof. Freek Cronje and Ms. L. Grimbeek of North-West University (Potchefstroom) South Africa ever attempt to contact much less meaningfully engage with any branch of this Government," said the government's press statement. Titled "The Natural Resources of Botswana are Our Common Heritage," the press statement continues to point out flaws and inaccuracies in the report's research and emphasizes that "the ownership of all mineral wealth in Botswana has remained legally vested with the state irrespective of who owns the land upon which they are found. This policy, dovetails with a common understanding, found among virtually all of our country's indigenous communities, that nature can never be owned, is now firmly embedded in legislation."
Meanwhile, De Beers, while issuing their "broad support" for the "generic Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility" developed by the Bench Marks Foundation, expressed its concern "by the distorted and inaccurate depiction of the diamond industry's contribution to community development in Botswana" presented in the report.
"The Bench Mark Foundation's report neither reflects our experience in Botswana nor the findings of numerous reputable independent studies by academics and bodes ranging from the United Nations Development Program to the World Bank. In contrast to the Bench Mark Foundation's report, these highlight Botswana's unique success in using its diamond wealth to drive sustainable development at both a community and national level as well as the role played by Botswana's exceptional governance record in this process."