Ms. Taylor Swift
c/o Ms. Tree Paine & Ms. Dana Lobb
September 29, 2015
Dear Ms. Swift,
You have deservedly earned recognition for lending your name and your financial resources to charitable efforts to help victims of bullying, survivors of environmental disasters, and others in need. In light of your support for humanitarian causes, we wish to call your attention to an instance where your inadvertent action threatens to undermine values you uphold. You are featured wearing diamonds from Leviev in two photos in the September issue of Vanity Fair. We are confident that if you were aware of Lev Leviev’s violations of human rights and international law, and unethical business practices in Palestine, Angola and Namibia, you would not tarnish your good name by associating yourself with his companies.
UNICEF, Oxfam America, the British and Norwegian governments and New Zealand’s pension fund are among many organizations that have severed ties with Leviev’s companies as a result of awareness-raising campaigns by activists about Leviev’s human rights abuses. Major Hollywood stars have also distanced themselves from Leviev. In 2008, the website of Leviev Diamonds featured photos of Salma Hayek, Halle Berry, Drew Barrymore, Brooke Shields, Andie MacDowell, Lucy Liu, Whitney Houston, Sharon Stone and others. However, after human rights activists spoke to and sent letters to representatives for these celebrities, some of these stars issued complaints to Leviev and the entire Celebrity section of his company’s website was taken down.
We fear that wearing Leviev’s diamonds in Vanity Fair conveys to your peers and to the public your implicit endorsement and promotion of Leviev’s companies. We urge you to carefully review Leviev’s companies’ record, as we’re certain that after you do, you will want to correct this misunderstanding and distance yourself from Leviev.
In Angola, possibly the source of the Leviev diamonds that you wore, private security companies employed by Leviev in diamond mining communities have been credibly accused by one of Angola’s most courageous human rights activists of committing brutal human rights abuses against Angolans. In Namibia Leviev’s companies have been criticized for abusing low-wage workers and threatening the environment. In Palestine Leviev companies have built thousands of Israeli settlement homes on Palestinian land in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, destroying Palestinian communities and violating international law. (For details about Leviev’s record in Palestine, Angola and Namibia and links to sources, see the Appendix to this letter.)
In 2012, you received a Ripple Of Hope Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. Previous winners have included Bono and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Your fellow honoree, Archbishop Tutu, has repeatedly condemned Israeli settlements like those built by Leviev, saying, "The Palestinians are forced to live in segregated areas, often relocated to less desirable land so Jewish settlers can live in fine red ceramic-roofed houses… I have looked at this and seen the ugly face of apartheid and the racism within it."
Given your demonstrated commitment to assisting people who are vulnerable and in need, we’re certain that you did not intend to convey support for Leviev’s companies and their horrible human rights records. Now that you are aware of this information, we urge you to publicly make a commitment not to wear Leviev Diamonds again in order to ensure that the public is not left with the understanding that you have endorsed Leviev’s companies.
We are available to answer any questions you may have. We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to provide further background on these issues.
Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (Palestine)
Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within (Israeli Citizens for BDS)
CODEPINK Women for Peace
Jewish Voice for Peace
US Palestinian Community Network
The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
Summary of Leviev’s Record in Palestine, Angola and Namibia
Palestine: Human Rights Watch’s recent report "Ripe for Abuse: Palestinian Child Labor in Israeli Agricultural Settlements in the West Bank" describes abuses against Palestinian children as young as 11 years old, who work in Israeli settlements. Lev Leviev’s companies have built many Israeli settlements. The report quoted one child worker as saying "If you sit down while you’re working with peppers or grapes the supervisor will come and tell you to stand up and not take a break." In the accompanying video report, researcher Bill Van Esveld said that "Some of the children ... come from villages where their families used to have their own land farms, and the same land farms has been taken over and given to settlement farmers. They have no option to work on Palestinian farms. Most of [these farms] don't exist any more.”
Since 2000, Leviev’s company Africa Israel, its construction subsidiary Danya Cebus, and Leviev’s company Leader Management and Development have built thousands of settlement homes in the Israeli settlements of Adam, Ma’aleh Adumim, Har Homa, Mattityahu East, Gilo and Zufim in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In West Bank Palestinian villages including Jayyous and Bil’in, Leader Management and Development and Africa Israel built Israeli settlements on the agricultural land that Palestinian residents depended on for their livelihoods. Even today Jayyous’ farmers are fighting in court against the seizure of additional village farmland for the continued expansion of Zufim settlement. Israeli settlement construction violates international law and has repeatedly been denounced the by U.S. government as an obstacle to peace. Israel settlements impoverish Palestinian communities by seizing vital land and resources and trapping Palestinians in isolated bantustans.
Africa Israel and Danya Cebus’ settlement construction were twice carefully investigated (1st and 2nd) by the Norwegian Government, leading to decisions by the Norwegian Government to exclude those companies from Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFP). Leviev has also donated to Israeli settlement organizations like the Land Redemption Fund that aim to further Israeli settlement expansion. In the last months, perhaps in an effort to dampen global boycotts, murky information has emerged about his companies’ current involvement with settlements. In October 2014, Israeli media reported a claim that has not been confirmed by Africa Israel that the company plans not to build any more settlements. There are also unconfirmed reports that Leviev’s company Leader Management and Development may have sold its ownership of the settlement of Zufim to an unidentified foreign entity. However, Leviev’s companies have made no clear public statements about their actions and intentions, nor taken any steps to undo the large-scale damage resulting from their settlement construction.
Angola: Angola may well be the source of the Leviev diamonds that you wore. In the diamond industry there, Leviev is a close partner of the corrupt and autocratic Dos Santos regime. Private Angolan security companies working for Leviev’s diamond mining companies were accused in 2006 and 2007 by the courageous Angolan human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais of terrible human rights violations, including “humiliation, whipping, torture, sexual abuse, and, in some cases, assassinations.” In 2014, Rafael Marques de Morais documented in a video yet more brutality by the Angolan private security company working for Leviev.
Due to his relentless exposure of the terrible human rights abuses that are endemic to Angola’s diamond industry, Rafael Marques de Morais was threatened with nine years of imprisonment in a high profile lawsuit brought by Angolan Generals. The Generals lawsuit focused on Marques de Morais’ 2011 book, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, documenting the severe human rights abuses committed by the Angolan diamond security companies owned by the Generals. Angola’s efforts to prosecute Marques de Morais for human rights reporting were the subject of broad international condemnation and widespread media coverage, which pressured the Generals to drop the lawsuit. The Angolan government prosecutor, however, continued prosecution of Marques de Morais, and he was convicted of malicious prosecution and given a six month suspended sentence that can be implemented any time in the next two years. Leviev’s companies were not a major focus of Marques de Morais’ 2011 book, because all of his documentation of abuses by Leviev’s Angolan security companies was stolen from his suitcase (pg. 8). Leviev’s companies remain central players and partners of Angola’s government in the country’s corrupt and exploitative diamond industry.
Namibia: In Namibia in 2008, Leviev fired around 200 diamond polishers—some of whom were struggling to survive on less than $2 per day—for striking in protest against abusive managers, overdue wages, and outstanding overtime pay. Leviev is now planning to mine for phosphates— chemicals used in fertilizers—off the seacoast of Namibia, despite concerns voiced by the Confederation of Namibia Fishing Associations on the detrimental impact it could have on the marine ecosystem and thousands of local fishers.