Canadian firm Nevsun sued over forced labour

Thursday, 11 December, 2014

An interesting article was published by UK’s Guardian newspaper on Tuesday, as three Eritrean refugees sue the Bisha Mining Share Company (BMSC)—jointly  operated by Vancouver-based Nevsun Resources and Eritrean Segen Construction—for conspiracy with the Eritrean government “to force them and other conscripted workers to work at a copper mine for long hours while receiving little pay and living in squalid conditions.” Nevsun deny the allegations.

Human Rights Watch has drawn links between Eritrea’s compulsory national service programme and the country’s mining sector; and the Eritrean government holds a 40% stake in Bisha mine (pdf).

In the context of recent discussions—here and elsewhere—about Western governments getting involved in the enforcement of better community relations, this presents a possible nightmare worst case scenario whereby governments are not only failing to monitor but actively collaborating in the exploitation of local communities. It’s ifficult to see how a foreign cross border investment in such a project could come out of it with anything other than a severely damaged reputation in the long term. And, if the allegations turn out to be true, quite rightly so.

The full article is available here and covers:

- How “foreign mining firms eyeing Eritrea’s mineral reserves are in danger of “walking into a minefield of human rights problems” - Alleged enforced separation of local and expat staff
- An independent report into working conditions at Bisha commissioned by Nevsun (good move in our opinion)
- Nevsun’s stance that the allegations are false, and outright denial that conscripted labour is used at all at Bisha
- HRW’s rebuttal of that claim