In Canada, a court in British Colombia has decided a court case against Nevsun Resources, a large Canadian mining company accused of relying on modern slavery at it’s Bisha Mine in Eritrea, will go ahead, rejecting an appeal by the company to have the case heard in Eritrea instead.
Eritrea is one of the most secretive and heavily militarised countries in the world. At the age of 18, all Eritreans are conscripted into the states “national service”, often indefinitely. As well as serving in the Eritrean military, conscripts are sometimes forced to work in state-run construction companies (which have a monopoly on accepting contracts) in horrendous conditions. In 2015, the UN’s special rapporteur released a report which stated that “forced labour was used, especially in the construction phase [of the Bisha mine], for the simple reason that all construction [operations] are done under the government.” According to the Canadian Centre for International Justice, “The case alleges that Nevsun engaged two Eritrean state-run contractors and the Eritrean military to build the mine’s facilities and that the companies and military deployed forced labour under abhorrent conditions. The case also alleges that Nevsun expressly or implicitly approved the use of conscripted labour, a practice alleged to be so widespread that it constitutes crimes against humanity.”
The court has also allowed claims of crimes against humanity, slavery, forced labour, and torture to go ahead. It is the first time that a Canadian court has allowed a trial of alleged human rights abuses to go ahead against a corporation. The case was originally filed in 2014 by three Eritrean men, who have since been joined by 51 others. The company tried to have the case thrown out, arguing that it should be heard in Eritrea rather than Canada, but Madam Justice Mary Newbury argued that the legal system in Eritrea was not sufficiently independent: “the legal system... would appear to be actuated largely by the wishes of the President and his military supporters.”
The Bisha Mine is owned 60:40 by Nevsun Resources and the Eritrean government. In 2013, Human Rights Watch released a report titled 'Hear No Evil', which argued that companies racing to take advantage of the mineral resources in Eritrea risked walking into “a potential minefield of human rights problems. Most notably they risk getting entangled in the Eritrean government’s uniquely abusive program of indefinite forced labour.”