NEWS 2005


Opposing Words Mark De Beers LV Opening

Posted: 6/23/2005 7:06 AM

By Jeff Miller

(Rapaport...June 23, 2005) Most Manhattanites (New Yorkers) have passed paper-covered windows of De Beers' retail store on the corner of 55th Street and Fifth Avenue for months. But by evening of June 22nd, the paper was scraped away by a team of window washers revealing the newest New York luxury jewelry store. Police barricades, tight security, and rain-soaked carpeting on the store front sidewalk greeted guests attending the opening reception.

Across the street however, barricades were set up for a gathering of Survival International -- an organization that says De Beers and the government of Botswana are responsible for displacing Bushmen from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) in order to mine diamonds.

The opening of De Beers LV in New York marks the second store opening protest against De Beers by Survival International, the first of which occurred at a London store in November 2002.

De Beers along with luxury retail partner LVMH Mot Hennessy Louis Vuitton planned to open two stores in the United States during 2005 -- the second of which is scheduled for the fourth quarter in Beverly Hills, California.

The De Beers Group has "neither sought, nor requires the removal of anyone from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve," said Lynette Hori, on behalf of De Beers. 

Finishing crew remove window paper in preparation for opening night of De Beers LV in New York

Survival International however claims that De Beers is in part responsible for "the eviction of the last remaining Gana and Gwi Bushmen and Bakgalagadi from their homes" in the Botswana game reserve.

But De Beers LV, is an independently managed retail venture with no involvement in mining issues, Hori told Rapaport News. Claims by Survival International are misleading, dishonest, and "De Beers challenges them to provide any credible evidence to support their claims," she said.

Survival International and supporters gather across the street from De Beers LV on opening night.

As Miriam Ross of Survival International handed colored maps of diamond concessions and brochures about the Bushmen to passersby on Fifth Avenue, she explained how diamond mining has affected the indigenous people. The government started relocating Bushmen outside of the reserve in 1997, which eventually led to 243 Bushmen taking Botswana to court, a case that is currently underway. Botswana contends that the reserve is a boost to tourism, and yet does not deny that mining for diamonds in the reserve would be illegal.

While De Beers holds concessions on a large diamond deposit in Botswana, Hori stated that "the De Beers Group, which is a shareholder in De Beers LV, does mine diamonds elsewhere in Botswana in partnership with the government....There is no mining activity --current or planned-- in the CKGR."

"Good," Ross told Rapaport, "It doesn't mean [De Beers] will not mine in the future. They hold concessions in the reserve now." Paperwork Ross provided shows that De Beers is no where near a majority concenssion holder. BHP Billiton Inc., owns the majority of concessions across the reserve, followed by Botswana and De Beers partnership (Debswana,) TNK Resources, and AMPAL Ltd.

When Rapaport asked Ross whether or not it was "fair" to target De Beers exclusively, she did not reply.

De Beers took out a retention license on Gope Settlement in November 2000, Survival International says, which was valid for three years and renewed in 2003, and it is the only retention license in Botswana. Gope is now the region where the High Court of Botswana will decide to investigate for diamond mining activity on August 2, 2005.

"Yes we do hold retention licences and we are prospecting, along with others, but so far we have not found a deposit that is economic to mine," Hori told Rapaport.

"Ironically, the best thing for the Bushmen would be for us to find a deposit that we could mine as that would provide jobs and an infrastructure for them offering up all sorts of new opportunities," Hori said. Any boycott of Botswana diamonds too, could "inflict untold damage on one of Africa's success stories," citing a negative revenue impact upon one of the world's top diamond producing nations.

Barricades separate journalists from pedestrians at the corner of 55th Street and Fifth Avenue.

"De Beers calls upon Survival International, and its director, Stephen Corry, to desist from their present, divisive campaign, based on unfounded allegations, and engage positively with interested parties to seek a secure future for all the people of Botswana, including the Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve," Hori said.

Author Gloria Steinem, left, speaks to reporters on behalf of Survival International as unidentified man holds placard on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Survival International said De Beers was not forthcoming with policies on indigenous peoples. However, according to a company statement, De Beers says its policy takes "seriously the rights and interests of communities living in the areas it operates." And where operations may impact a community's rights or interests, "we are committed to engaging with them transparently and openly with a view to seeking to secure their free and informed consent before initiating operations."


While a war of words continued behind the scenes, the lights of the new De Beers LV store twinkled at arriving guests. And those few pedestrians able to avoid being shooed away for loitering by store security watched the event from sidewalk view as dusk set in across midtown Manhattan.

One woman who was visiting New York from Pennsylvania tried to look past the curious crowd into a window display, and she remarked that the store opening was fascinating to watch, "but we leave tonight and I wanted to go inside to see their diamonds."

De Beers LV opens for regular business on June 23, 2005.