Eritrea: Metalor & Lufthansa accused of importing gold extracted under conditions of forced labour to Switzerland; incl. company responses

On 30 August 2017, Swiss national TV aired a major report detailing how huge amounts of raw gold extracted from Eritrea, under practices of forced labour and slavery, end up in Switzerland for the final process of refinery. The report indicates that the only Swiss company known to have been refining gold originating from Eritrea is the Neuchâtel-based Metalor. It also states that the country’s gold is transported by Lufthansa from Asmara to Frankfurt. We invited Metalor and Lufthansa to respond to the allegations. Their responses are included below.

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Author: Georg Humbel, SRF

"Schweizer Geschäfte mit einem geächteten Regime", 30 August 2017 

  • Die Schweiz hat von 2011 bis 2013 für rund 400 Millionen Franken Rohgold aus Eritrea importiert. Schweizer Firmen haben es raffiniert und daraus Goldbarren gegossen.
  • Die Bisha-Goldmine gehört zu 40 Prozent dem repressiven eritreischen Regime.
  • Ein ehemaliger Arbeiter der Mine lebt heute als Flüchtling in der Schweiz. Er erzählt von Zwangsarbeit beim Bau der Mine.
  • Aus keinem anderen Land kommen so viele Asylsuchende in die Schweiz wie aus Eritrea. Die Mine ist eine der wichtigsten Einnahmequellen des Regimes.
  • Asylpolitiker von links bis rechts kritisieren die Millionengeschäfte scharf.

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Company response
19 September 2017

Response by Lufthansa

Author: Lufthansa

Lufthansa Cargo Statement:

We are taking the events in Eritrea and the comments that reached us very seriously. However, we would like to point out that Lufthansa Cargo complied with all laws and regulations in respect of the mentioned transport from Eritrea to Switzerland which took place more than four years ago. We strongly believe that it is the task of governments and international institutions to define the rules governing the transport of goods. Of course we stand for transparency and welcome any open discussion on all channels.

Company response
15 September 2017

Response by Metalor

Author: Metalor

Thanks for contacting Metalor on this subject and giving us the opportunity to express our position regarding this matter...

  • Metalor does formally reject any allegation of slavery or force labour
  • Metalor neither had nor have any presence in Eritrea.
  • Metalor has not done any business with the Eritrean government
  • Metalor was supplied gold doré from a large and renowned Canadian publicly listed international mining company which was operating the Bisha mine in Eritrea.
  • The above supply of gold doré was limited to a short period of time in 2011 and 2012.
  • There were no restrictions/sanctions at that time from either the UN or the Swiss Government in that regard
  • Since that time Metalor has not  received any supply of precious metal whatsoever from Eritrea.
  • Because of the overall deterioration of the situation of that country in terms of human rights, Eritrea is blacklisted by Metalor.
  • Metalor has rejected several offers to be supplied from Eritrea. All such requests have been turn down due to compliance reasons.

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Article
1 September 2017

Eritrea: TV report exposes how gold extracted under conditions of forced labour ends up in Switzerland for refinery

Author: Eritrean Law Society

On 30 August 2017, the Swiss national TV aired a major report focusing on a huge amount of raw gold extracted from Eritrea, under extremely abusive practices of forced labour and slavery, ending up in Switzerland for the final process of refinery... The TV report indicates that the only Swiss company known to have been refining gold originating from Eritrea is the Neuchâtel-based Metalor. All other major refineries of gold in Switzerland said they had not accepted any gold from Eritrea... The Canadian company, Nevsun, involved in the extraction of gold in Eritrea, is currently fighting a major legal battle in the Supreme Court of British Colombia in Canada, for alleged involvement or complicity in gross human rights violations (including crimes against humanity) committed in the Bisha Mining from which the gold was extracted... [T]he country’s gold is transported smoothly by Lufthansa from Asmara to Frankfurt. In the beginning of 2011, the first gold bars begun to arrive at their final destination, Switzerland.

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