Supporters of tribal people’s rights demonstrated today (February 3) outside Tiffany jewelry stores in London, Madrid, Paris, Berlin and San Francisco to protest the company’s support of Botswana government policies that provide water for wildlife but not for indigenous people on their ancestral lands. Demonstrators want Tiffany to stop all cooperation with the Botswana government until the Bushmen are allowed to exercise their right to water. The protests are being coordinated by Survival International; Bushman spokesman Jumanda Gakelebone stated: “Tiffany is supporting the government but ignoring the Bushmen. It should not be giving money to the government while we don’t have any water. Its money is being used to oppress us. This is our land and we love it.”
In 2002 the government evicted the tribesmen from their land, which is part of a huge nature reserve. That action was overturned in 2006 by a High Court ruling that allows the Bushmen to remain, however the Botswana government has blocked the tribe’s access to their water borehole, forcing them to go outside of the reserve–a 300 mile round trip–to get water.
The Bushmen were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and forbidden access to the water that has sustained them for centuries. In the mean time a tourist lodge with swimming pool, requiring new boreholes for water, has been built within the reserve. This issue shows the challenge of truly just and sustainable actions: the wildlife needs protection, the indigenous people need protection, and ecotourism provides jobs and boosts the local economy.
This is not a bad guy/good guy story, but a demonstration of the challenge of doing good in a complex situation; Tiffany has demonstrated responsible corporate behavior in other actions in Botswana. According to the Wall Street Journal, Botswana has long been a top producer of gem-quality diamonds, and Transparency International has rated it among the least corrupt major diamond producers. Tiffany is committed to using only diamonds certified by the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, a UN-created system–of which Botswana is a member–that certifies certain sources as “conflict-free” diamonds. in 2007 Tiffany opened a diamond polishing factory in Botswana, where it provides training and jobs to 80 local workers. In 2008 the company gave $2 million for the construction of an HIV/AIDS facility in the Botswanan capital. The boreholes that Tiffany is funding through the government are of a new, solar-powered design, vastly reducing the amount of pollution from the old diesel-powered models.
It is often challenging to strike a balance between preserving the rights of wild life and preserving the rights of human beings, but in this case it seems clear that the Bushmen are as much a part of the Botswana desert ecosystem as the lions and wildebeests. Tiffany has done so much good work in Botswana…perhaps it could use its leverage to pressure the Botswana government to do right by the Bushmen as well.
Photo: Protesters outside of Tiffany in London on February 3.
© Marc Cowan/Survival; used with permission.