BC mining operations must be made accountable for human rights abuses

By Fiona Koza

Nevsun Resources has joined the ranks of Vancouver-based mining companies on trial for human rights abuses allegedly committed at overseas mines. Nevsun is accused of complicity in torture and slavery at its Bisha mine, a joint-venture with the government of Eritrea. Nevsun shareholders deserve to know about these extremely serious allegations, which is why several organizations including Amnesty International held a rally outside Nevsun Resource’s Annual General Meeting in Vancouver this morning.

The lawsuit against Nevsun claims that the plaintiffs in the case were subject to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” while forced to work at the company’s Bisha mine, facing “long hours, malnutrition and forced confinement for little pay.” They allege they “worked under the constant threat of physical punishment, torture and imprisonment” and that Nevsun, by entering into a commercial relationship with the government of Eritrea, “became an accomplice to the use of forced labour, crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses.”

Crimes against humanity are wide-spread and systemic in Eritrea, yet Nevsun knowingly entered into a joint venture with one of the most repressive governments on the planet. In that context it should be abundantly clear to investors that Nevsun is either directly or indirectly profiting from human rights abuses in Eritrea. Considering the seriousness of the allegations, Nevsun shareholders and shareholders of other companies facing similarly troubling situations surely must understand that it is not good business and goes against their own interests to be invested in corporations with questionable commitments to human rights.

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Nevsun is not the only Canadian mining company accused of abusing human rights overseas. Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources is also in BC court for negligence and battery over the April 2013 shootings of seven protestors outside its Guatemalan silver mine. In fact, 44 deaths and 403 injuries related to Canadian mining operations in Latin America between 2000-2015 are documented in the report “The Canada Brand: Violence and Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America” published by the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project in 2015.

Despite the frequency of human rights allegations involving Canadian mining companies overseas, very few cases make it to Canadian courts. Victims of human rights abuses involving corporations face enormous political, financial and other barriers when attempting to access justice, especially when the offending corporation is foreign. As a consequence, companies complicit in human rights abuses overseas are allowed to operate with impunity.

Because companies frequently avoid responsibility for human rights harms overseas, Amnesty International is advocating for an independent Human Rights Ombudsperson for the Canadian Extractive Industry. While Nevsun’s shareholders gathered at the company’s AGM today to discuss profits reaped from its mine in Eritrea, the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability met with Canada’s Minister for International Trade in an effort to secure Canada’s commitment to a Human Rights Ombudsperson for the Extractive Industry.

Much more needs to be done by the government of Canada, companies and investors to prevent profiting from human rights abuses related to mining, and to ensure justice for victims.

May is Mining Action for Justice Month. Government officials have told us that they plan to create an ombudsperson for the extractive sector – yet they have not announced it officially and it was not in the federal budget. We need to hold them to their word and get started today! Let’s create a groundswell of support that decision-makers won’t be able to ignore!  

Fiona Koza is Amnesty International’s Business and Human Rights Campaigner based in Vancouver, BC.Follow her on Twitter @AICanadaBHR