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Canada's Supreme Court papers reveal Nevsun's internal communication on use of forced labour at their Eritrean mine

Author: Scott Anderson, CBC , Published on: 22 January 2019

"What did Canadian mining executives know about possible human rights violations in Eritrea?"

For years, Vancouver-based mining firm Nevsun Resources has dismissed allegations that forced labour was used to build its mine in the repressive east African country of Eritrea. Nevsun executives have denied direct knowledge of human rights violations at their Bisha mine site in a CBC interview and during an appearance before a parliamentary committee. But company documents filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia last November and reviewed by CBC's The Fifth Estate show executives at the highest level appear to have been informed of issues of forced labour at their mine site a decade ago. Former Bisha mine workers are suing Nevsun in B.C. for alleged human rights violations — including forced labour, slavery and torture...

But back in 2009, Nevsun was seeking financing during the construction phase of the mine when the issue of forced labour in Eritrea was raised by potential lenders. One email filed in court, dated March 4, 2009, and written by then Nevsun CEO Cliff Davis, is headlined "Private and Confidential due to Sensitivity."  Davis writes that the lenders "have placed another obstacle in the road to finance. They assert that the country practises involuntary labour (forced labour) and before they can lend to the project, BMSC must demonstrate that the Bisha mine will not be a benefactor in any way of such labour, either directly or via any of its contractors." In the same email, Davis notes "we understand there are currently some National Service people working for a key contractor working at site" and that "we are in the process of determining whether the terms of employment would constitute forced labour." Davis suggests BMSC could hire the workers directly or offer them contracts "where they could leave on their own free will."

But Davis goes on to say "None of these solutions are palatable to the Eritreans because: 1. another Westerner telling the Eritreans how to run their country; 2. potential disruption to the national development campaign. Politically a very sensitive topic."

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Related companies: Nevsun