A recently released investigative report by Human Rights Watch has raised some troubling questions for a Canadian mining company currently expanding its operations in Africa. According to this report, Canada-based Nevsun Resources did not adequately assess the possibility that forced labor would be used in the development of its Bisha mining project in Eritrea. The mine began gold production in 2011 and produced more than $600 million of ore in its first year of operations.
As the report highlights, Eritrea is one of the world's most repressive regimes. Under the guise of national service, the Eritrean government subjects many of its citizens to forced labor in state-owned operations and ventures. Human Rights Watch claimed that Nevsun failed to conduct proper due diligence early on in its involvement in the Bisha project to ensure that this type of forced labor was not being employed in the Bisha project. In fact, Human Rights Watch investigators interviewed several Eritrean citizens who claimed they had been forced by the government to work on the construction of the Bisha mine. Some of those interviewed described terrible living conditions.
While Human Rights Watch credits Nevsun with attempting to improve the living conditions of those Eritreans working within its facilities, the report cautions that such improvement is difficult to achieve if the contractors Nevsun works with refuse to operate in a transparent fashion. In fact, these contractors continue to refuse to allow Nevsun to monitor its labor practices.
Companies that choose to operate in closed and/or repressive countries must do all that is possible to ensure that they are not directly or indirectly involved in any human rights violations. If such companies choose instead to turn a blind eye to any such violations, they may be held liable and required to compensate the victims of those violations. It is, in fact, quite important to hold all entities responsible for, or complicit in, human rights violations accountable for their actions.