The Canadian mining company Nevsun – the first multinational miner inside Eritrea, one of Africa’s most secretive nations – did little to prevent forced labor at its gold and copper operations there, Human Rights Watch says.
A 29-page report released today chastises Nevsun Resources for agreeing to work with an Eritrean construction company notorious for using conscripted laborers who toiled in squalor for the firm.
“If mining companies are going to work in Eritrea, they need to make absolutely sure that their operations don’t rely on forced labor,” said Chris Albin-Lackey, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If they can’t prevent this, they shouldn’t move forward at all.”
Employees worked in poverty-like conditions with no sanitation and poor food when operations began in 2009. They toiled 12 hours per day, six days per week all for $15 per month, The Globe and Mail reported.
Nevsun’s owners admit not knowing if forced labor existed when it started, but insist they took steps to prevent any further abuses and that none is used today.
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“Nevsun is committed to responsible operations and practices at the Bisha mine, based on international standards of safety, governance and human rights,” CEO Cliff Davis said on the company website.
The report, called Hear No Evil: Forced Labor and Corporate Responsibility in Eritrea’s Mining Sector, was released today by the New York-based non-governmental organization.
HRW accuses Nevsun of failing to prevent forced labor and then reacting slowly to accusations once construction of its Bisha mine began.
The mine is a joint venture between Nevsun and the government-owned Eritrea National Mining Corporation (ENAMCO).
It was ENAMCO that insisted the Canadians use Segen Construction Company, a firm known for past human rights abuses. Now, Human Rights Watch wants other miners to avoid the same mistakes.
Firms from China and Australia, and another from Canada, plan to open projects inside the impoverished country rich with mineral resources.
Bisha produced 313,000 ounces of gold last year and employed almost 1,000 people. Nevsun said that since early 2011, Bisha has contributed more than $400 million directly to the government and added tens of millions more through wages and spinoffs, Nevsun said.
“As we get closer to construction, it’s something we’ll have to pay close attention to,” Greg Davis, vice-president at Canada’s Sunridge Gold Corp., told the Financial Post.
Eritrea is a nation of 6 million inside the Horn of Africa. It won its independence from Ethiopia in 1991.
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