Canada-Eritrea Mine, Bisha, Used Forced Labour, According To Human Rights Report – by Mike Blanchfield (The Canadian Press/Huffington Post – January 15, 2013)

OTTAWA – A highly critical human rights report released Tuesday is shedding new light on the darker implications of the Conservative government’s ambitions for Canadian mining companies in Africa.

The report by Human Rights Watch says Vancouver-based Nevsun Resources Ltd. (TSX: NSU) failed to ensure that forced labour was not used in the construction of its mine in Eritrea, the hermit-like pariah state on the Horn of Africa.

Though the company was concerned when the problems first came to light and tried to investigate, it was blocked by its state-owned partner, says the report by the New York-based agency. Nevsun said it has since instituted rigorous screening practices at its Bisha mine project and taken steps to ensure that forced labour is no longer used.

“When Nevsun began building its Bisha mine in Eritrea in 2008, it failed to conduct human rights due diligence activity and had only limited human rights safeguards in place,” Human Rights Watch said.

The Eritrean government insisted that Segen Construction Company, a local Eritrean contractor, carry out construction of the mine in 2008. Segen — owned by the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice — routinely exploits conscript workers that the government assigns to it, the report alleges.

The agency said Eritrea’s conscripted workers, some of whom are forced to labour for over a decade, face torture and other serious abuse, and revenge is extracted on their families if they desert their posts.

Nevsun addressed the report in a statement on its website that was posted four days ago in anticipation of Tuesday’s report.

Nevsun said it became aware of the allegations involving the Segen employees in 2009, and had to expand its employee safeguards to cover those employees. It obtained a written guarantee from Segen not to use conscripts at Bisha.

Nevsun said the last of the 140 Segen employees still working at the mine — one-tenth of the mine’s total workforce — will be gone by the end of August when their current work is completed.

“The Company expresses regret if certain employees of Segen were conscripts four years ago, in the early part of the Bisha Mine’s construction phase,” Nevsun said.

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