By RAID

 - November 12, 2020

New report of human rights abuses at the Williamson Mine undermines FTSE4Good listing

Petra Diamonds’ claim that its gems are ‘ethical’ are seriously undermined by accounts of killings and brutal assaults of local residents at its Williamson Mine in northern Tanzania, UK corporate watchdog RAID said today. Petra Diamonds is listed on the London Stock Exchange’s FTSE4Good Index, which is intended for companies that demonstrate robust environmental, social and governance (ESG) measures.

In a new report and video released today, RAID provides extensive details of at least 7 deaths and 41 assaults by security personnel at the Williamson Mine since it was acquired by Petra Diamonds in 2009. The report describes people shot with little or no warning, stabbed, detained, stripped, beaten, incarcerated for days in a filthy and cramped holding cell by the mine’s entrance, deprived of food and medical treatment, and/or handcuffed to hospital beds at the mine’s medical facility.

“The shocking levels of violence and mistreatment at the Williamson Mine clearly cast doubt on the ethical assurances so often repeated by Petra Diamonds,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, RAID’s Executive Director. “The abuses should ring alarm bells for FTSE4Good and other ESG investors who need to urgently examine the basis upon which they decided Petra Diamonds met ethical standards.”

RAID’s findings are based on more than 14 months of research and are informed by 118 interviews with local residents, community leaders, former security personnel, local medical staff and Williamson Mine whistle-blowers, as well as extensive analysis of local reporting, third party reports and corporate materials published by Petra Diamonds. RAID found that Williamson Mine’s security contractor, Zenith Security Services, a Tanzanian company that operates under the direct supervision of Williamson Mine employees, were directly implicated in many of the abuses. 

In one incident, a local resident, Paul (not his real name), said he was detained on the mine site alongside other artisanal miners, taken to the mine’s security office, forced to sit on the floor and beaten repeatedly “with batons until our joints were swollen”. Paul said that Williamson Mine’s Chief Security Officer, David Ndoda, directed the guards, telling them to “beat these people so that they don’t come back”.

Injured detainees were frequently taken to a mine-owned and operated hospital on the concession where they were handcuffed to beds or to each other and watched by armed guards. In one case, John (not his real name) said that after he was shot by security personnel he was handcuffed to a hospital bed. “I was in so much pain. I asked the nurses numerous times for more pain medication but they didn't care and they laughed at me.” The next day Ndoda visited him in the hospital, shouting that John’s injuries were his own fault.

In almost none of the interviews, including with witnesses, were any of the victims described as armed at the time of injury or death. RAID found no evidence of adverse consequences imposed on security personnel for human rights abuses by Petra Diamonds or the Williamson Mine. It found only two cases in which security guards were charged or convicted by Tanzanian authorities.

Human rights defenders, victims of the violence and community representatives who spoke out about the abuses at the mine faced harassment and intimidation by local authorities and others. Reports of this treatment increased after RAID and British law firm Leigh Day, which is independent of RAID, began investigating human rights allegations at the mine. Leigh Day has since filed a legal claim in UK courts on behalf of over 30 Tanzanian nationals against Petra Diamonds and its local operating company Williamson Diamonds Ltd (WDL) for alleged human rights abuses. 

Petra Diamonds has published a Human Rights Policy Statement and a Code of Ethical Conduct which states that, “Not only do we respect human rights, but we actively advance them”. The company says its security systems “play an indispensable role in upholding and protecting human rights” and that it has in place “robust internal systems” to manage human rights issues. 

Demand for diamonds and access to financing depends in large part on Petra Diamonds’ image as an ethical business. Petra Diamonds is a member of the Natural Diamond Council, an association of leading diamond producers, which promotes the “highest standards of integrity and responsibility”. In September 2020, it launched a new campaign promoting diamonds under the slogan ‘For Moments like No Other’ fronted by Hollywood actor and Bond Girl Ana de Armas.

The Williamson Mine began operations in the 1940s and is one of the world’s longest continuous diamond mining operations. It is known for its rare pink diamonds, of which the most famous is the ‘Williamson Pink’, a diamond given  to Princess (now Queen) Elizabeth on her wedding by the mine’s Canadian founder, John Williamson. It was set into a brooch which the Queen still often wears. 

On 9 September 2020, Petra Diamonds issued an initial public statement about the human rights allegations. It met with RAID via a video conference on 18 September and responded to RAID’s concerns in a letter on 13 October 2020, though it did not respond to most of the questions RAID had raised.

Petra Diamonds said it is taking the allegations “extremely seriously”. The company said it had initiated an independent investigation and taken interim measures pending its outcome, including human rights-related “refresher training” for security personnel and the suspension of two Williamson Mine employees overseeing security. It added that a tender process for a new security provider contract was being initiated, an onsite facility used for detention was being closed, and that it was “upgrading” its onsite medical facility. It added that pending its investigation “the veracity of the claims made is unknown”, but that it was “committed to addressing past and future verified claims of human rights violations and remedying any harm done”.

“Initial steps by Petra Diamonds are encouraging though the real proof will come when those who have been harmed by the company’s operations receive remedy and justice, and the rights abuses stop,” said Van Woudenberg. “For Tanzanian residents who live in the shadow of the Williamson Mine, the company’s human rights language is at best mere window dressing.”

Next week, on 17 November, the company is due to publish its delayed annual results and is expected to provide additional details on how it is managing the human rights concerns. 

Further background:

Petra Diamonds acquired the Williamson Mine in 2009 from De Beers. It owns a 75% stake in Williamson Diamonds Ltd (WDL) with the Tanzanian government holding the remaining 25%.  The mine is one of several that it owns. The other three producing mines are in South Africa.

Petra Diamonds has had a tumultuous few years. In June 2020, it put itself up for sale due to an overwhelming debt load. On October 20, the company announced it had reached an agreement in principle with its major debtholders including Bank of America, Monarch Alternative Capital and Franklin Templeton, amongst others. The agreement provides for a debt for equity swap, meaning dilution of the stakes held by Petra’s shareholders, including BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm. 

The Williamson Mine has had multiple owners over its 80-year lifespan. Nearly all have prospered at the expense of local communities, who have been treated as (potential) diamond thieves, exploited as a source of cheap labour, and repeatedly subjected to excessive force.

The mine’s approach to artisanal mining – an activity many local residents resort to supplement limited incomes – has been ruthless and militaristic. In its Code of Ethical Conduct, Petra Diamonds says that its control of the diamonds is “non-negotiable and we will employ all necessary means – overt and covert – to protect our diamonds from theft or loss.”

For more information, please see:

The full report, “The Deadly Cost of ‘Ethical’ Diamonds” - click here.

Correspondence between RAID and Petra Diamonds – click here.

Correspondence received from Petra Diamonds after RAID’s report had gone to press – click here

Accounts of Abuses:

These accounts, described in more detail in the report, have all occurred since 2015.

“They got close, about 25 metres, then [the security personnel] fired shots. I was hit on my left thigh as well as near my left shoulder. I tried to keep running but I couldn't. I had to sit on the ground. I used my torch to see where I got hit. Blood was coming out of my left thigh. It was a lot of blood coming out because there was blood coming out near my left shoulder too…. The guards lifted me up and put me in their vehicle. They carried me roughly and didn't care about my injuries.”

**

“We were caught by the guards. There were more than 20. There were no police. When they caught us, they beat me very badly…They told me I gave them a lot of trouble because I didn’t stop running. They beat me with clubs. There were about seven guards, it was an attack. I didn’t have any weapons. No one in my group had any weapons. The guards did not give me any warning before attacking me. The guards struck me first. I didn’t fight back, no guards were injured.

They broke my [bone]. They beat me on the head and shoulders. I didn’t faint but I lost all my strength. After beating me, they took me to the police station in Mwadui [a town within the Williamson Mine concession]. My colleagues were locked up at the mine detention centre. The police said I had to go to the hospital because I was badly injured. I was taken to Mwadui Hospital. They stitched me and gave me [a cast]…. Then I was brought to the court by the police and Zenith security on [date omitted] for entering the mine without authorisation. They read the charges and then I was taken to prison. There was no bail. I stayed for two weeks and then they brought me back to the court.”

**

“I had [broken bones] before they put me [in the detention facility]. I didn’t receive medical treatment …although while I was being booked one guard who was taking our statements asked whether I needed medical attention. I said yes… because of the beating, but I was hit by another guard who told me to say that I wasn’t injured and I hurt myself while running. I did not say anything and stayed quiet. 

The following day, a different guard asked me if I needed medical treatment. I refused to comply because I was angry about what happened to me when I said I needed medical attention the first time they asked. I thought they would hit me again if I agreed to get medical treatment.… 

We were guarded by Zenith guards. About six of them…. I personally was in so much pain the whole time. My [injury] was killing me and my whole body was aching from the beating I got before I arrived there. I was swollen pretty much everywhere. I could not sleep because of how my body ached. I had to sit the whole time. There was no food or anything to drink. We were never given anything…. The inside [of the facility] was very dirty and it smelled. There was a bucket full of urine which started overflowing.”

**

“We got there with blood on our bodies and we had to be taken to the bathroom for cleaning up. After that we were given an injection and some medicine. I don’t know what kind of medication but I remember there were two packets….At the hospital we were always handcuffed in pairs at the wrists and guarded by Zenith guards….They had weapons, guns, and were there the whole time at the hospital.… I was chained with a guy I did not know and the whole time there we were told to sit on the floor. It was very difficult, especially for me, because [I was] in a lot of pain from the beating. I had to lay on the floor most of the time. The handcuff was on my left hand against another guy’s hand…. We were all cuffed against each other and in pairs…. When we were allowed to leave the hospital, I was not told anything nor given any documents.”