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Eritreans file lawsuit against Canadian mining company for slave labour

Published by MAC on 2014-11-23
Source: Statement, Bloomberg, Mining.com (2014-11-23)

Eritreans file lawsuit against Canadian mining company for slave labour and crimes against humanity

Canadian Centre for International Justice statement

20 November 2014

Vancouver - Three Eritrean men filed a civil lawsuit today in a Vancouver court against Nevsun Resources Limited over the use of slave labour at Nevsun’s Bisha Mine in Eritrea.

The men allege that Nevsun’s local contractor, Segen Construction Company, which is owned by the Eritrean government’s ruling party, forced them to work on projects at the mine under abhorrent conditions and that Nevsun expressly or implicitly approved the use of slave labour, a practice alleged to be so widespread and inhumane that it constitutes crimes against humanity.

According to the lawsuit, conscripts were forcibly confined to the Bisha area, subjected to gruelling workdays and threatened with severe punishment if they left without authorization. They were made to survive on meagre rations and housed in deplorable conditions, the claim says, and all lived under a climate of constant fear and intimidation.

The claimants, who say they fled Eritrea at great personal risk, are supported in Canada by a legal team comprised of Vancouver law firm Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman (CFM), Ontario law firm Siskinds LLP, Toronto lawyer James Yap and the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ).

The legal team indicates that the case is before the B.C. Supreme Court because Nevsun, which owns a majority share of the Bisha mine, is headquartered in Vancouver and is incorporated under the laws of British Columbia.

“There is no chance that these men will ever obtain justice in Eritrea, where forced labour of its citizens and other severe human rights violations are practiced on an enormous scale by the ruling party,” said Joe Fiorante, Q.C., a partner with CFM. “We assert that Nevsun should be held accountable for the tremendous harm suffered not just by the plaintiffs but all those coerced by its local contractor into working at the Bisha mine site.”

The lawsuit alleges that Nevsun knew or should have known that Segen had been implicated in slave labour and that in hiring Segen for the Bisha project – Nevsun’s only operating mine – there was a high risk slave labour would be used. The filing claims that Eritrea is a rogue, dictatorial state with one of the worst human rights records in the world, and that it conscripts workers for long periods of time.

The B.C. case follows the filing of a similar Vancouver lawsuit in June 2014 against Tahoe Resources for the shooting of protestors in Guatemala. The suit against Nevsun represents the fifth active case of its kind in Canadian courts, in addition to an action now before the Supreme Court of Canada to enforce a multi-billion dollar judgment obtained in Ecuador against Chevron for environmental destruction.

“Survivors of abuses associated with Canadian mining companies are increasingly frustrated and vocal about the lack of redress in Canada because there is no meaningful government regulation or process to seek remedies from Canadian corporations,” said Matt Eisenbrandt, CCIJ’s Legal Director. “Survivors are turning to civil lawsuits as the only means for accountability and compensation.”

Dimitri Lascaris, a partner with Siskinds, said, “There is, regrettably, a long and ignominious record in the Canadian resource sector of companies doing business with repressive regimes.” He added, “We intend to shine a bright light on these relationships, and we hope to raise the ethical bar for Canadian resources companies that are profiting from their interactions with such regimes.”

The lawsuit also advances ground-breaking claims based on the international law prohibitions on forced labour, slavery, torture and crimes against humanity. It is one of the first human rights lawsuits in Canada to assert claims based directly on international law.

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Contacts:
Joe Fiorante, CFM, +1-604-689-7555, JFiorante[at]cfmlawyers.ca (English)
Dimitri Lascaris, Siskinds, +1-519-660-7844, dimitri.lascaris[at]siskinds.com (English, French)
Matt Eisenbrandt, CCIJ, +1-604-569-1778, meisenbrandt[at]ccij.ca (English)


Vancouver miner faces civil suit alleging 'slave labour' amid takeover rumours

Business in Vancouver

Mining.com

21 November 2014

The stock for Vancouver miner Nevsun Resources Limited (TSX:NSU) could be in for a rollercoaster ride.

On the same day that trading was halted on the speculation that Nevsun could be acquired for a rumoured $1 billion, a Canadian human rights group representing three Eritrean miners filed a civil suit in BC Supreme Court alleging Nevsun’s contractor in Eritrea used “slave labour” at its copper mine.
The company’s stock closed November 19 at $4.23 per share. The TSX temporarily halted trading on Nevsun stock November 20. It spiked 25% to a day high of $5.30, settling at $4.95 at close of markets.

The jump in Nevsun’s stock prices appears to fueled by speculation that QKK Corp. is planning to buy Nevsun for $1 billion – a number that has not been confirmed by any named sources.

Nevsun responded November 20 with a press release:

“Nevsun has recently received from various parties expressions of interest on a potential corporate transaction. We take these enquiries seriously however any discussions are at a preliminary stage and there is no certainty that any transaction will be completed. Management is not aware of a bid for the company.”

Nevsun owns 60% of the Bisha copper mine in Eritrea; the Eritrean government owns 40%.

The same day that the speculation broke about the acquisition, lawyers working on the behalf of three Eritrean refugees who claim they worked at the mine filed a civil suit against Nevsun in B.C. Supreme Court.

Gize Yebeyo, Kesete Tekle Fshazion and Mihretab Yemane Tekle – who are refugees now living in Canada – allege in their claim: “The mine was built using forced labour, a form of slavery, obtained from the plaintiffs and others coercively and under threat of torture by the Eritrean government and its contracting arms.”

The claimants say they were subjected to “harsh working conditions, including long hours, malnutrition and forced confinement for little pay.”

By entering a commercial venture with the Eritrean government, the claim states that Nevsun “became an accomplice” in the alleged acts. The three men are asking for restitution and equitable relief, but the claim does not specify an amount.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

"We are confident that the allegations are unfounded," Nevsun CEO Cliff Davis said in a press release. "Based on various company-led and third party audits, the Bisha Mine has adhered at all times to international standards of governance, workplace conditions, and health and safety. We are committed to ensuring that the Bisha Mine is managed in a safe and responsible manner that respects the interests of the local communities, workers, national governance, stakeholders, and the natural environment."


 

Nevsun denies human-rights abuses at Eritrea mine

Michael Gunn & Firat Kayakiran

Bloomberg

24 November 2014

Nevsun Resources Ltd., a takeover target which mines gold and copper in Eritrea, is being sued for alleged complicity in human-rights abuses at its operations in the African nation. The company denied the allegations.

The suit filed yesterday by three plaintiffs in the Supreme Court of British Columbia claims the Vancouver-based company’s Bisha mine was built using “forced” laborers who faced the threat of torture by the Eritrean government, according to the filing.

“We are confident that the allegations are unfounded,” Nevsun Chief Executive Officer Cliff Davis said in a statement. “Based on various company-led and third-party audits, the Bisha mine has adhered at all times to international standards of governance, workplace conditions and health and safety.”

Human rights conditions in Eritrea are “dismal” with indefinite military service, torture, arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of expression driving a refugee exodus, according to Human Rights Watch. Military conscripts provide forced labor in civilian roles, the New York-based group said in its World Report 2014.

Nevsun has a 60 percent shareholding in Bisha Mining Share Co., while the Eritrean government holds the remaining stake through the state-owned Eritrean National Mining Corp. The mine produced only gold until last year, when it began to expand into copper and zinc. It plans to produce 80,000 metric tons to 90,000 tons of copper this year and aims to start zinc production at the beginning of 2016. The site is located 90 miles (145 kilometers) west of Eritrea’s capital, Asmara.

No one answered the phone at Bisha Mining Share when Bloomberg called today outside regular office hours.
Segen Subcontractor

QKR Corp., a mining fund headed by former JPMorgan Chase & Co. banker Lloyd Pengilly, is close to making a bid of about $1 billion for Nevsun, according to people with knowledge of the situation. QKR is funded by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and Jan Kulczyk, Poland’s richest man.

Nevsun confirmed yesterday that it has received from various parties expressions of interest on a potential corporate transaction and that any discussions are at a preliminary stage.

The lawsuit alleges that by entering a commercial relationship with the Eritrean government, Nevsun “aided, abetted, contributed to and became an accomplice to the use of forced labor, crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses at the Bisha mine.”

The trio of plaintiffs in the case against Nevsun, all Eritrean nationals who say they fled the country after being forced to work at the mine, are seeking damages, according to the court filing. To build the mine, Nevsun “engaged” companies called Segen, Mereb and the Eritrean military, which sourced the “forced labor,” the filing says.

Joe Fiorante of Vancouver-based Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman and Dimitri Lascaris, a partner at Siskinds in London, Ontario, are co-counsels for the plaintiffs, according to a statement.

The case is Gize Yebeyo Araya, Kesete Tekle Fshazion and Mihretab Yemane Tekle v. Nevsun Resources Ltd., S-148932, Supreme Court of British Columbia, Vancouver.

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael Gunn in Nairobi at mgunn14[at]bloomberg.net; Firat Kayakiran in London at fkayakiran[at]bloomberg.net



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