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Petra Diamonds bows to pressure on human rights abuses at Tanzanian mine

UK-LISTED company, Petra Diamonds, has bowed to pressure and agreed to settle the claims of 71 Tanzanian nationals who suffered human rights abuses at its Williamson Mine in Tanzania, paying a total of £4.3 million in a wide-ranging compensation package. It follows years of efforts by local residents and activists to end the abusive practices. A further 25 claims are being investigated as part of the settlement, which could increase the total payout.

 The claimants include residents of nearby communities who were shot, beaten, stabbed, assaulted, detained in a filthy and cramped holding cell by the mine’s entrance, and handcuffed to hospital beds by security personnel employed at the mine. The victims were represented by the British human rights law firm Leigh Day. The settlement should enable survivors to access much-needed medical care.

In a press release and a further statement on Wednesday, the company said that it had ‘acted decisively to hold individuals to account’ and that the mine ‘is committed to cooperating with the relevant prosecuting authorities’ in relation to abuses. It said disciplinary action had been taken and that certain employees had left, or would be leaving, the company. The company also said it had appointed a new security contractor and closed the on-site detention facility where UK-based coroporate watchdog RAID had found evidence that many local residents had been detained and beaten.

 The company said ‘we all regret the loss of life, the injuries and mistreatment’ and that it was allocating funds for community projects to include enhanced community medical support, access to the concession to collect firewood and graze livestock, and a gender-based violence campaign to provide support and counselling for victims. It also said it had launched a company grievance mechanism where local residents could bring complaints which would ‘be managed by an independent panel and operate according to the highest international standards.’

 After admitting failures in escalating abuses to the Board over many years, the company said it was committed to putting in place new oversight and escalation procedures. RAID urges Petra Diamonds to ensure its reporting is public, truly independent and comprehensive to stop abuses from occurring in the future.

 RAID’s in-depth investigation detailing the abuses

In November 2020, after 14 months of research, RAID further exposed the human rights abuses at the Williamson Mine in a detailed report. RAID found that guards from private security contractor, Zenith Security, operating under the supervision of Williamson Mine employees, were directly implicated in many of the abuses. RAID also revealed that security guards at the mine had deliberately swapped rubber projectiles in their weapons with metal shot, to inflict greater harm on local residents. The company’s statement confirmed this practice.

Following RAID’s documenting of the abuses and Leigh Day’s filing of the legal action, Petra Diamonds initiated its own investigation, the outcome of which was announced today.

‘Despite years of local activism and widespread reports about the abuses at its Williamson Mine, Petra Diamonds failed to take action. Only after the detailed investigation by RAID and legal action by British human rights lawyers did it publicly respond to the dreadful security-related practices at its mine,’ said RAID Executive Director Anneke Van Woudenberg. ‘Petra Diamonds should also provide remedy to victims who may not yet have come forward and ensure there is rigorous monitoring of its security operations to prevent any more abuses from occurring.’

Petra Diamonds’ ethical claims undermined

 One of the largest industrial diamond mining companies, Petra Diamonds was, until recently, on the London Stock Exchange’s FTSE4Good Index, ostensibly for companies that demonstrate robust environmental, social and governance (ESG) measures. Petra Diamonds is also a member of the Natural Diamond Council, an association of leading diamond producers, which says it promotes the ‘highest standards of integrity and responsibility.’

The statement and actions taken by Petra Diamonds indicate that the company recognises its security operations at the Williamson Mine were not compliant with human rights or international standards, and required a drastic overhaul. It is in sharp contrast to the company’s earlier policy statements claiming, ‘Not only do we respect human rights, but we actively advance them.’

 ‘Petra Diamonds’ ethical claims have been exposed as nothing more than window dressing to promote its diamonds,’ said Van Woudenberg. ‘ESG investors and others who have backed Petra Diamonds and believed the company’s ethical claims should look long and hard at why their vetting practices failed to identify this empty rhetoric and ask questions about what they might be missing at other companies who make similar ethical claims,’she added.

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