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23 Sep 2015

Chris Arsenault, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Eritrea: Former worker claims Nevsun complicit in using forced labour at its mine; company denies allegations

"Ex-official says forced labour built Canada mine in Eritrea test case"

Hundreds of men drafted into Eritrea's army were used as forced labour to build a Canadian company's copper-gold mine in central Eritrea, according to a former construction official, in a case testing the global responsibility of foreign firms to workers. Claims of forced labour at the Bisha mine, jointly owned by Nevsun Resources Ltd and state-owned Eritrean National Mining Corp, date back to 2008 but are now the subject of a class action lawsuit at British Columbia's Supreme Court.

Although Nevsun was not directly responsible for hiring local staff - that was done through local contractor firm Segen - plaintiffs argue the Canadian company was complicit in their servitude, a claim the Vancouver-based company denies...Nevsun has repeatedly stated that none of the workers at Bisha, which started operations in 2011, were army conscripts and said it will "vigorously defend itself" against the lawsuit...

But the former construction official...[said] that Eritreans conscripted into the military were forced to work at Bisha..."There were as many as 500-600 conscripts working in the first round of construction," the former official said in his first interview since leaving Eritrea, requesting anonymity.