Nevsun propping up Isaias

I’ve said this before: I’m all for western companies investing in Eritrea.  The country will need money and technical expertise if it is to grow its economy and sustain its population.  However, I feel very nervous about the recent announcement by Nevsun about its successful gold mining activities in Eritrea. 

You can read more here, but the most important point is that, over the course of this year, the Bisha Mine in Eritrea, which is run by Nevsun, a Canadian mining company, has produced 278,000 ounces of gold.  At approximately £1,050 to to £1,070 per ounze, that’s a lot of money – £291,900,000 in fact.  When you take away the cost of research, production, and the cut to the Eritrean government it will quickly whittle away, but its not to be sniffed at.

What worries me is their CEO’s comment: 

Cliff Davis, Nevsun CEO commented, “Bisha’s smooth start-up earlier this year and the continuing impeccable production track record is a testament to the team at Bisha and our partnership with the Eritrean State mining company, ENAMCO.

(You can read more about Cliff here, but look left – he’s been on the cover of ResourceWorld.  Wow.)

Their Code of Ethics is directed purely at their employees.  There is no guiding priniciples covering who the company should do its business with.  Which is lucky if you are working closely with the Isaias regime in Eritrea.  However, there is one statement in the Code which caught my eye:

While employees are expected to comply with all laws, rules, regulations and government requirements in jurisdictions in which the Company does business, the general laws and ethics of Canada will preside; for example, the Company will not tolerate bribery, sexual harassment, abusive behavior, exploitation of child labor or abuse of human rights.

The Eritrean State mining company is not independent.  It is a pawn of the Isaias regime, which facilitates sexual harrassment in its prisons and military training establishments, which exercises abusive behaviour to its entire population on a daily basis, and abuses human rights in a rigorous, systemic manner.

In addition their social responsibility policy states that Nevsun will:

procure materials, goods and services in a manner that enhances local benefits and protects against unethical practices such as child labour and forced labour;

I presume that they are working with and procuring services from ENAMCO geologists and other professionals.  I would be very surprised if these individuals were all there of their own accord.  Some of them will, undoubtedly, be conscriped.  And in Eritrea conscription isn’t 2 years before you go off to university, its essentially state slavery of an arbitrary length.

I can’t find out who is on their Audit Committee, or details of the ‘periodic audits’ of social responsibility which are meant to be occuring.  They do some useful little side projects, which look quite good on a website, but are the CSR equivalent of pornography.

Worst of all, for the long-term health of Eritrea, they will be paying a considerable sum of money to the Isaias regime, which helps to prop up President Isaias and his cronies for even longer.

Is there no Canadian human rights organisation which can confront them with the legacy they are leaving the people of Eritrea?


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