Nevsun accused of turning blind eye to forced labour – by Geoffrey York (Globe and Mail – January 15, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

JOHANNESBURG — For the conscripts who were ordered to work at a Canadian gold mine in Eritrea, the conditions were nearly unbearable: 12-hour shifts, six days a week, with poor food and no toilets, for a salary of less than $15 a month.

When one conscript left the mine without permission to attend a grandparent’s funeral, he was captured and imprisoned for four months, and then forced back into his unit.

These are among the allegations in a hard-hitting report by Human Rights Watch, to be released Tuesday, which criticizes the Canadian mining company for failing to prevent the use of forced labour at its mine. The report is based on interviews with former workers at the mine, who later fled the country.

The Vancouver-based company, Nevsun Resources Ltd., responded to questions from The Globe and Mail by saying that it expresses “regret” for any forced labour at its mine in Eritrea. It said it doesn’t permit conscripted labour at its mine today, but doesn’t know whether its subcontractor used conscripts in the past.

The allegations highlight the ethical and moral challenges for Canadian mining companies when they operate in countries with long histories of human rights abuses. And it raises the question of whether Canadian companies can develop mines in countries such as Eritrea without becoming complicit in those abuses.

Human Rights Watch, an independent group based in New York, said some companies, including Canadian companies, are failing to do enough to prevent the use of forced labour. The report is titled “Hear No Evil.”

Eritrea, located in the Horn of Africa, is one of the world’s most repressive and secretive countries. It has never held a national election since its independence in 1993, and Human Rights Watch has said the country is becoming “a giant prison” of torture, arbitrary arrest and forced labour.

Eritrea also enjoys vast mineral resources, which are luring a number of mining companies from Canada, Australia and China.

Nevsun is the operator and majority owner of the Bisha mine, the first and only modern mine in Eritrea today. The mine employs nearly 1,000 people and produced about 313,000 ounces of gold in 2012, making it one of the biggest contributors to Eritrea’s impoverished economy. It provides nearly a quarter of the national gross domestic product.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: