The slaves of Eritrea

Canadian mining company Nevsun has been accused of using forced labour to build a mine in Eritrea. How could something like that happen in the modern business world?

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(Illustration by Owen Freeman)

(Illustration by Owen Freeman)

The news was grim, but not surprising. Yannick Lamonde, an official within Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), received word in January last year of an impending report by a prominent non-governmental organization. Its contents were explosive: Human Rights Watch claimed a Canadian-owned mine in Eritrea had been built partly by de facto slaves. Department officials were already well-acquainted with the mine’s majority owner, Vancouver-based Nevsun Resources, and certainly its mine, Bisha, located in the dusty interior of the North African nation. They had even heard similar rumours at least a year earlier. But with those unproven allegations now receiving widespread publicity, remaining silent was no longer an option.

The first order of business was to prepare for the inevitable questions from reporters. According to documents obtained by Canadian Business under the federal Access to Information Act, the DFAIT’s media relations team was given a series of stock responses to deliver. Corporate Canada “leads the world in responsible mining practices,” the officers told reporters from the CBC, La Presse and elsewhere when they called. But as for claims about people forced to build a mine in distant lands, those were the responsibility of local authorities. Headlines followed, but the furor quickly passed.

Among the allegations commonly lobbed at Canadian mining companies, permitting forced labour at one’s mine surely ranks among the most outrageous. But if DFAIT’s response seems somehow inadequate, in reality Lamonde and his colleagues were simply doing their jobs. For years, the federal government has encouraged Canadian companies to subscribe to voluntary measures collectively known as “corporate social responsibility,” or CSR. Like other nations, however, Canada has steadfastly resisted pressure to directly regulate companies’ behaviour abroad, even when they’re operating in jurisdictions with abysmal human rights records. The controversy surrounding what happened at Bisha reveals, however, that Canada’s laissez-faire approach comes with unexpected consequences that affect every taxpaying Canadian citizen.

eritrea-map

The 150 kilometres that separate the Bisha mine from Eritrea’s capital take four hours to drive. But whereas Asmara is a bustling city of 650,000 filled with 1930s colonial Italian architecture, Bisha lies amid an expansive desert of rolling, ochre-tinged sand and scrub. Nevsun acquired its licence to explore for minerals in Eritrea’s semi-arid lowlands during the 1990s. There the company found significant deposits of gold, silver, zinc and copper just under the sun-baked surface. These riches were at least as important to the Eritrean government as they were to Nevsun: by various estimates Bisha would provide about US$1 billion in royalties and revenues over its life, and raise the country’s annual GDP by several percentage points.

The compromises necessary to build Eritrea’s first modern mine drew both parties into unfamiliar territory. The Eritrean government, which fiercely espoused national independence and self-reliance, would own just 40% of the joint venture, known as the Bisha Mining Share Co. (BMSC)—Nevsun would hold the rest. BMSC, meanwhile, would be required to employ a subcontractor owned by Eritrea’s ruling party, called Segen Construction, to build roads, staff housing and earthworks. Nevsun, for its part, would rather not have hired Segen as its price was “significantly higher” than what could otherwise have been negotiated.

Cost was not Nevsun’s only concern. In a 2006 U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, U.S. Ambassador to Eritrea Scott DeLisi described how Segen crushed private competitors to become the country’s largest construction company. Its main advantage, DeLisi wrote, was that it got its labour at “nearly zero cost.” That’s because Segen employs conscripts from Eritrea’s “National Service,” a program through which Eritrea enslaves many of its own citizens.

Awate (not his real name) was among the National Service’s first 12,000 conscripts. He was a teenager when, in 1994, military police plucked him from the streets of Asmara and transported him, by open-bed truck, to Sawa military camp. The following year the government proclaimed the official terms of National Service: all Eritreans aged between 18 and 40 were required to serve 18 months. (For youth, this meant six months’ military training at Sawa, followed by a year of unpaid military or civil work.) Those who refused faced up to five years in prison.

Awate spent the better part of the next decade performing unpaid labour, much of it for the military. (He still bears scars from a tank shell explosion during Eritrea’s 1998 war with Ethiopia.) In calmer times he performed work for Segen, building roads and irrigation ditches. Workdays lasted up to 16 hours, Awate says, with no days off. Meals invariably consisted of bread, soup and tea. The monthly pay was 95 nakfa, enough to buy about six packs of cigarettes.

After the war with Ethiopia ended in 2000, Awate recalls hearing promises that many soldiers would be released back into civilian life. It didn’t happen. Instead, he claims conscripts were exploited by the ruling party. “When the war is over, the soldiers, they become like slaves,” he says in his even, unemotional tone. “They start to build generals’ houses, their farms.” And because the majority of Eritrean youths were now conscripted in the National Service, any business requiring their labour had to effectively rent them from the government. The regime pocketed the profits.

Awate resolved to join the thousands departing every month for neighbouring Ethiopia and Sudan. To avoid National Service is to be branded as a traitor, and refugees may be imprisoned without trial, tortured, or simply shot dead at the border. Awate did escape and eventually settled in Canada, but the price was steep: his mother was imprisoned for his transgression. She was released but later died of illness.

Now in his 30s, Awate attends a high school and mans a parking toll booth. “I am too late for everything now,” he laments. “My youth, I spent it on struggle.” Even now he remains under Eritrea’s thumb. When a sibling in Asmara was refused a business licence because Awate had not paid his 2% “diaspora tax,” Awate paid. Last year Canada expelled Eritrea’s consul in Toronto for continuing to collect this tax after being warned to stop—but it came too late. “Now they are going to call me every year,” he says.

Although Awate never worked at Bisha, his experiences echo those of other refugees who report working for Segen. Gaim Kibreab, an Eritrean-born professor at London South Bank University, has studied Eritrea’s National Service since its inception, and has interviewed more than 200 refugees across Africa and Europe. He says the government established it as a means of inculcating youth with the same qualities and values that helped Eritrean fighters overcome their Ethiopian adversaries during Eritrea’s War of Independence (1961–1991). “It actually began as a good program in view of the devastation the country had suffered,” Kibreab says. But while military conscription is legal under international law, National Service quickly morphed into something else. During the 1998–2000 war with Ethiopia, the supposed 18-month term was eliminated entirely. “That was when it degenerated into forced labour,” Kibreab says. “There is no end. Once you join, you never leave.”

By the time construction commenced at Bisha in late 2008, forced labour was an inseparable feature of Eritrea’s economy. Nevsun appreciated this. “We recognized that there was a potential National Service issue with respect to the subcontractor,” CEO Cliff Davis told a parliamentary subcommittee in 2012. So Nevsun did precisely as the Canadian government suggested: it subscribed to an array of voluntary CSR codes, particularly that of the World Bank’s International Finance Corp., and hired a consultant to draw up procedures to meet those obligations. Nevsun required any Eritrean applying to work at Bisha provide documents proving they’d been discharged from National Service. This, the company believed, would ensure no one worked at Bisha against his will.

Strangely, the policy did not initially extend to subcontractors, which rendered Nevsun blind to what went on at Segen’s workers camp. A few months into construction, in early 2009, a person Nevsun describes as “a European or South African banking syndicate official” visiting Bisha told the company Segen might be using conscripts there. Nevsun quickly responded by altering contracts with Segen to include an explicit guarantee that its Eritrean partner would not use conscripts and by requiring Segen employees provide discharge papers. Nevsun later strengthened procedures further: all workers at Bisha had to carry photo identification, a means of guarding against conscripts replacing previously cleared workers. Spot audits were conducted, but before this point Bisha may have employed Eritreans against their will.

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Nevsun’s concerns over Segen mounted in 2010 when another of BMSC’s contractors, a South African company, reported that some Segen workers were hungry. Nevsun asked for permission to visit Segen’s camp and was refused—causing a rift between the two firms. When Segen eventually relented, the inspection found poor living conditions and low food inventories—complaints eerily similar to those from refugees who worked for Segen elsewhere in Eritrea. Nevsun intervened.

Little of this was public knowledge when Bisha swung into commercial production in early 2011. But shortly afterward, two individuals—Abadi Gebremeskel and Legesse Berh—joined the endless stream of refugees arriving at Tigray, Ethiopia, and were subsequently interviewed by London-based Human Rights Concern Eritrea. Both men claimed to have worked at Bisha.

Gebremeskel said he worked as a safety officer for Segen early in the construction of Bisha. He observed Segen workers toiling without helmets and shoes, living without proper food or housing. Of the 1,000 Segen workers he claimed were on site, he estimated that all but 150 were conscripts. “Generally, you would call it slavery and/or servitude,” he said. “Segen Construction means a company which exploits its workers and uses slave labour.” He claimed that informants disguised as workers created a culture of fear, and that Segen workers were instructed “not to tell any information to the white men.” Citing testimony from Gebremeskel and five other ex-conscripts, Human Rights Concern Eritrea accused Nevsun of turning a blind eye.

The allegations received wider attention after Human Rights Watch, the large international NGO, published its own report—the one that landed on Yannick Lamonde’s desk at DFAIT last January. Human Rights Watch reached similar conclusions, citing “clear evidence” Segen workers suffered from inadequate food and shelter at Bisha, and that some were conscripts. It accused Nevsun of complicity. “Incredibly, Nevsun appears to feel that it has no power to confront its own politically connected contractor about allegations of abuse at its own mine site,” the NGO complained. “Instead its response to Segen’s stonewalling has been one of quiet acceptance.” Nevsun, having been informed about the report’s impending publication, issued a statement. “The Company expresses regret if certain employees of Segen were conscripts four years ago,” it said, while emphasizing it had been compelled to hire Segen. Indeed, the company had attempted to do further work on the site without Segen in late 2011, only to be ordered by the government to stop and rehire the subcontractor. (The Eritrean government dismissed the report as “cheap shots and lies.”)

To be clear, there is no evidence Nevsun sought to benefit from forced labour—the reverse seems to be true. It has engaged with relative openness on the issue with NGOs, government and the media. Last year it commissioned Montreal lawyer Lloyd Lipsett to review Bisha’s current practices; his report, published in April, said spot checks of discharge papers and interviews with Segen workers confirmed they’d been discharged from national service. Even today, it is impossible to say whether conscripts actually helped build Bisha or not. Exiled Eritreans interviewed by Canadian Business unanimously believed they did. But when pressed, they conceded a lack of conclusive evidence—as did Human Rights Watch.

Nevsun doesn’t know, either, although it has tried to find out. Last year it dispatched recently hired vice-president of corporate social responsibility, Todd Romaine, to Bisha to investigate. He visited Segen’s new camp in March 2013, inspected its dining halls and sleeping accommodations. And through a translator, he interviewed nine Segen employees, including three who’d worked at Bisha since 2008. “We were looking for people who had been around since these allegations were made, to see if we could find out if, back then, they knew people who were there who were conscripts,” says Romaine. “The answer, across the board, was no.”

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Canadian officials knew, earlier than most, about allegations of forced labour at Bisha. This much is revealed in the more than 700 pages of government records Canadian Business obtained, covering 2008 through early 2013, using the federal government’s Access to Information Act. In an e-mail to colleagues in January 2012, Ethiopia consul Christopher Hull wrote that reports about mining firms in Eritrea “being forced to use conscripts and prison labour matches what we are being told here.” The documents demonstrate that DFAIT officials kept in close contact with Nevsun, meeting with executives at least several times and exchanging regular e-mails. Dozens of officials were involved in monitoring the company’s activities and co-ordinating the department’s response. During the back and forth, Nevsun likely expressed to DFAIT (as it did to Canadian Business) its faith in its Eritrean partners. And it certainly detailed and expressed pride in its own CSR practices. Even so, one internal DFAIT briefing about Nevsun noted that while the allegations could not be substantiated, “the low level of respect for human rights in Eritrea means that the allegations should not be dismissed lightly.”

DFAIT apparently decided to voice its concerns discreetly. Records suggest that one official made a “courtesy call” to Eritrea’s permanent representative to the UN about the country’s poor human rights record. And during a lunch with Nevsun CEO Cliff Davis, officials were instructed to deliver certain “talking points” to Nevsun. Among them:

We would advise you to have a well-developed CSR strategy in place. Doing business in a country that faces allegations of human rights abuses such as Eritrea carries with it a certain amount of reputational risk. It is up to Nevsun to make sure that it is conducting itself in the proper manner and is not complicit with any of the accusations being directed at the Eritrean government by civil society.

DFAIT officials worried about how the brewing controversy might affect other Canadian companies. During the summer of 2012, the Norwegian chapter of Amnesty International attacked Norway’s national pension fund for owning Nevsun shares. “The fund is important for Canada as it has invested around $10 billion in close to 300 of our companies,” wrote Canadian Trade Commissioner Christian Hansen, then stationed in Oslo, in a heavily censored memo. This raised the possibility that reputational fallout from Nevsun might put those investments in jeopardy. In response, the fund’s ethics council began an ongoing assessment of whether any of the companies in the fund might be involved in human rights violations (forced labour particularly) in Eritrea.

Caution must be taken in interpreting these documents: they reveal only so much about their authors’ motivations. But they do suggest a lack of curiosity about what really happened at Bisha. Michele Lévesque, Canada’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, displayed initiative when she wrote to colleagues that she “was trying to find out to what degree [Nevsun] adheres to CSR…any information on that aspect would be appreciated.” She seems to have received silence in response.

Parliamentarians were more curious. Beginning in early 2012, a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development began studying the human rights situation in Eritrea. The subcommittee heard several witnesses who cast Eritrea’s government in profoundly negative light. Several alleged forced labour may have been used in Bisha’s construction.After receiving word of these allegations, Davis himself volunteered to appear before the committee via teleconference to set the record straight. His exchanges with members were at times testy—particularly with veteran Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, who confronted Davis with the litany of allegations against Nevsun’s business partners. “How do you feel about your involvement in a country that has been described as the North Korea of Africa with respect to human rights violations?” Cotler demanded impatiently. He wanted to know what Nevsun had done to persuade its partners to stop abusing Eritreans. Davis seemed mystified by Cotler’s hostility; he saw Bisha as a positive force in Eritrea, and couldn’t see how he had any business telling his partners how to run their country. “We as a company can only control what we control,” Davis said repeatedly.

 

If one finds the allegations at Bisha unsettling, perhaps it’s because slavery seems an antiquated concept. The campaign to abolish the trans-Atlantic slave trade began more than two centuries ago, and forced labour is prohibited by two 20th-century conventions—the more recent International Labour Organization’s Abolition of Forced Labour Convention was in 1957—and both were almost universally ratified. How is it, then, that when allegations arose that a Canadian mine may have been built with forced labour, the government’s response was largely confined to drawing up “media lines” and “talking points?”

Part of the explanation is that Davis’s mantra—we can only control what we can control—echoes national policy. Testifying before the subcommittee, Patricia Malikail (as director general for DFAIT’s Africa Bureau, she spoke to Davis directly on at least two occasions) summed up Canada’s approach: “These companies operate according to their own principles,” she said. “What we do is support and encourage companies to implement, for example, corporate social responsibility initiatives.” The spirit of intervention that guided the 19th-century anti-slavery movement has been replaced by an ethos of non-interference and laissez-faire trade.

Penelope Simons, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, finds this unsatisfactory. She and a colleague published a book this year examining the efficacy of a variety of voluntary CSR standards. Apart from allowing corporations to operate abroad freely and placing them on a level playing field with global competitors, she found little to recommend them. “It’s a weak approach, and it’s the status quo,” she says. The initiatives “are all flawed in different ways and are incapable of systematically preventing corporate complicity in human rights abuses or of assuring accountability,” she says.

Simons advocates something called “home state regulation,” a legislative framework for regulating corporate behaviour abroad. Neither Canada nor its peers do that now. (Corruption is a rare exception; most developed countries now prosecute companies for bribing overseas officials.) Several years ago Liberal MP John Mckay introduced a private member’s bill known as C-300, which would have compelled the federal government to determine whether Canadian companies were upholding certain environmental and human rights standards when operating abroad—and withdraw federal support from offenders. The government, worried an avalanche of frivolous complaints would place Canadian companies at a competitive disadvantage, defeated the bill.

But Canada’s current approach also has consequences. After all, Norwegian pension funds weren’t alone in investing in Nevsun. While the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board also considers environmental, social and governance factors when making investments, much of the CPP’s equity portfolio essentially replicates major stock indexes. Because Nevsun is a member of the S&P/TSX composite, the CPP automatically bought shares. As of March 2013, it held more than 1.8 million of them, worth about $7 million. If conscripts really did help build Bisha, then every Canadian citizen profited a little from slavery in a far-off land.

44 comments on “The slaves of Eritrea

  1. The US had mandatory conscription and they used the army to fight fires, floods and build things…nobody called them slaves. The issue is not forced labour but treatment alone. Don’t they still force prisoners to work?

    Reply

    • This is yet another case of the pot calling the kettle black. The Eritrean government is (as far as I know) founded on

      egalatarian principles and therefore free of the corruption and other characteristic vices of modern governments.

      All attempts to smear, demonise and malign are therefore futile. Awet n’Hafash, for Eritrea would never betray the

      poor.

      Reply

      • Rahwa, is there any legal and independent institution that can confirm or audit the revenue generated from the forced labor? Poor souls are living in the shackles of poor slavery where the only option is to abscond out out of the country. They can’t even feed themselves and their families.

        Reply

        • Thier only option is to abscond out of the country? Youre exposing your lack of knowledge. Why is the author trusting intelligence from Ethiopia when for the past 10 years Ethiopia has been the #1 refugee producer in the world(in total and per capita)?

          Number of Ethiopian Refugees in SAUDI ARABIA Last Year: 800,000
          “1.6 Million Ethiopians Have Illegaly Entered Saudi Arabia since 2012, according to the Chinese state-owned international news agency CCTV.”
          http://youtu.be/CDQRH80P7ys
          start@1:55

          Number of Eritrean Refugees WORLDWIDE Last Year: 18,000
          “More than 1,500[18,000/year] Eritreans, including unaccompanied minors, flee the country monthly.”
          http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/country-chapters/eritrea

          Reply

        • Ask @FikreJesus, @stesfamariam and @hawelti on Twitter, i’m just hoping that people are being

          treated right and that Segen’s revenues are being used to build schools and hospitals, if on the other

          hand revenues are being used to enrich a selected minority then I’ll be heartbroken to say the least

          because that wasn’t an existing incentive of our revolution. .

          Reply

        • There is no real transparency in Eritrean politics. I even believe that my president is being hostage by the current idiocy at hand. Why can’t I find Matthew McClearn on Twitter? I’ve also just read on TesfaNews that he’s been fired recently. What’s going on? Who owns SEGEN? Who decided on a 60-40 Nevsun ownership percentile ratio. Let us shut down the mines until ELECTIONS are held in Eritrea. I demand that DAWIT ISAAK be released, I demand TRANSPARENCY. I demand an immediate end to this evil. I will not tolerate the exploition of the poor by corporate conglomerates and their friends.

          Reply

      • Rahwa T Ghermai,

        How do you know the Eritrean government is not corrupt — just because the government claimed so? The last time I left Eritrea (2009), corruption was rampant at all levels of government institutions, especially those run by military officers (although civilian). Basically, Eritrea has no formal economy, with the majority of imports smuggled into the country through contraband, mostly involving high ranking military officials. It’s a wishful thinking to hope that there won’t be corruption in a county largely sustained by a black-market economy.

        Reply

        • I can neither confirm nor refute your claims but I know that a lot of progress is being made in Eritrea,

          I also know that Canadian mining companies are notorious for the damage they do the enviroment

          and the strife they bring upon mining sites and communties the world over. The self-righteous noise

          they made about 2% tax was both malicious and cruel, any blindman can see that Eritrea both

          needs to and has the right to tax her citizens.

          Reply

          • The issue is Taxation without Representation. Where is the constitution and the parliament that represents the Eritrean people? The tyrants are neither elected nor representative of the people of Eritrea. They are simply thugs controlling a mafia regime without any legal authority.

    • Exactly Robert but when the US and her allies are set on destabalizing an African country, logic and truth have no

      roles to play in the drama she’ll create :-) The truth being that however bad things may get in countries like Eritrea,

      nothing is as terrible as the crimes against humanity committed daily by NATO and Co or the non-Eritrean-owned

      conglomerates that are recolonizing Africa even as we speak.

      Reply

      • As long as there is no transparency or independent auditing entity providing quantitative information regarding how much revenues are being generated and how much of that is being used to build schools, there is no basis for your claim that Eritrea is free from corruption. When an army officers with a salaries less that 5000 Nakfa manage to build ground +1 mansion, you can only hope against hope that there is no corruption in Eritrea, but feel free to go roaming around the adventure-land inside your mind imagining a corruption-free Eritrea..

        Reply

        • So if there is no transparency or independent auditing then what is the basis for your claim that Eritrea is NOT free from corruption? And what army officers own ground +1 mansions? Tell us where the money is being spent since you obviously know something we dont. Keep your coffee shop gossip to yourself please.

          Reply

          • You accuse me of ‘coffee shop gossip’ while tipping us about army officers who own double storey mansions? It seems to me that I am not the gossip here Brother. Corruption is against the Eritrean revolution’s ethos, if you know of any corrupt army officers report them to the government as civil servants/government workers are accountable to the citizens they serve. Awet n’Hafash!

          • Sorry Samson, I thought that you were calling ME a gossip plus I confused your message with Mussie’s.

            Awet n’Hafash.

        • Listen Mussie, if there IS corruption in Eritrea, you’re not supposed to attack me on the net, what

          you’re supposed to do is to expose your army officer using PROOF, EVIDENCE and journalists, as well

          as DEMANDING better pay for our workers. Because i do not know or know of your army officer, I can

          not do this for you but keep wagging your tongue and you’ll get what’s coming to you GADDAFI-STYLE.

          As for my claims that Eritrea is corruption free they are based on an interview PIA gave many many

          years ago or

          does he own double storey mansions too now? PS Next time HEZBI GHENBAR makes a whole

          hooha about the anti-imperialist Eritrean Revolutionary, remind me that you’re all just a bunch

          hopeless mansion-ogling hebays who can’t govern, mine, audit, report or discuss politics either!

          Haanti TeghelbeT hebay tefTerelkum HEZBI HEBAY!

          Reply

        • Why is there no transparency or independent auditing entity IN Eritrea? Because our journalists and writers have been killed or imprisoned! Because Isaias said that there is no such thing as ‘FREE PRESS’, is that not so? He also once said that the EPLF were against the ‘exploitation of man by man’. How is enslaving refugees and ones own people in synch with our revolutionary ethos? How is enslaving the poor and enriching oneself against the exploitation of man by man? I demand JUSTICE before we are forced to lead another revolution.

          Reply

        • Thank You and McClearn for re-opening my eyes Mussie, please feel free to write to me at

          rahwaghermai@msn.com.

          Reply

    • The US has a constitution, Bill of Rights, elected representatives, due process, labour unions, independent news media etc. etc. who can oversee the conduct of the government.

      Reply

      • They told me elections are a ploy used by EMPIRE to confuse the people but I want my peoples’ rights to be respected. I want revenues to be used to better the lives of the poor. I want to know why the killed Aster Fessahatsion. Read THOMAS C.MOUNTAIN regarding elections.

        Reply

      • The US has imposed ILLEGAL SANCTIONS on us, Yemane. The US created Al-Shabbab and then accused GOE of funding them. They’re trying to frame Isaias. ISAIAS, re-INVEST REVENUES from Bisha and SEGEN AND RETURN THEM TO OUR PEOPLE in the form of schools, hospitals, jobs, pay the VERY WORKERS whose labour was initially expolited due to a lack of funds. Pay our teachers, doctors, nurses and national service conscripts. RESPECT WORKERS’ RIGHTS! EUREKA Eritrea! (hishuni!) HADE ISAIAS! Wushimatat keyt-his Isaias, baAl beytka SABA akhberra!

        Reply

      • The US uses media-lies to overturn good governments Yemane. We Eritreans must INDEPENDENTLY (of western wolves like Connell and Plaut) demand transparency and accountability of our government.

        Reply

  2. Great Article Mr. McClearn

    Captures all the intricacies. Also want to thank Nevsun for currently being open and committing to remedy its past ignorance. Hope this serves as a warning to future miners/investors across Canada.

    Reply

    • Thank Nevsun for what? For profiting from slavery and enabling fascists commit gross human rights violations against the Eritrean people? Shame on Nevsun and Canada for propagating slavery and financing tyranny.

      Reply

      • International Thief Thief – Fela Kuti

        Reply

  3. As a geologist who has worked in Ethiopia I can understand Nevsun’s dilemma all too well. When working in a foreign country, particularly an African country, one must adapt to the rules/regulations that are enforced upon you by a (most probably) corrupt government. The Canadian company I was with in Ethiopia was required to pay bribes for everything, starting right when we first entered the country when our equipment was confiscated and held by Customs. Obviously this is not the same as using forced labour, but this anecdote is used to illustrate how cultural differences can cause conflict between (e.g) companies used to operating within North American values and governments/bureaucracies.
    It’s an unfortunate but all too common situation that working in a third world country leads many companies to ‘cast aside’ ethics and responsibilities that are a normal and required part of the North American standard. This ‘casting aside’ isn’t necessarily done (one would hope) out of a desire for great profits. Instead, it’s done out of a necessity to ‘adapt’ to a culture where bribery/corruption etc. are commonplace and are an accepted and normal way of doing business.
    That’s not to say that Nevsun should be entirely absolved of responsibility – after all, they chose to build the mine regardless of the possibility that unpaid labour comprised the main component of the work force. Still, it does sound as if Nevsun was not give a choice of contracting companies by the Eritrean government if the company wished to build and operate a mine in Eritrea and I’m not sure what they could have done differently apart from abandon the project.

    Reply

    • You always have a choice to do the ethical thing. In all cases money trumps ethics it seems.

      Bribes are knowingly paid? Well guess what, just don’t do it. It is that simple. And yes, I understand that means someone else will step in and do it. But you have the choice not to.

      Reply

    • You geologists are part of the problem and Eritrea is not Ethiopia so take your Ethiopian whore stories and keep trying to rape Mother Earth.

      Reply

  4. This is a very interesting contribution. Job well done Matthew McClearn! A number of points can be raised here to defeat Canada’s weak approach in this particular issue. Just to give one example (without forgetting the dire state of human rights in Eritrea): To this day, except from information that comes from the annual reports Nevsun, the Eritrean people do not have any clue as to where Bisha money is going. To say the least: I am sure time will come when the Government of Canada will have to formally apologize for its soft and ineffective approach towards Nevsun’s corporate social responsibility. And that time won’t be too long. We are already around the corner.
    Daniel R. Mekonnen

    Reply

    • Well said Daniel. I would go further and say Canada ought to be ashamed for allowing Nevsun become the lifeline to the totalitarian regime in Eritrea that is causing unheard-of human rights violations including slavery in the 21st Century.

      Reply

      • Yemane, do you really think that Canada is unaware that SANCTIONS ARE ILLEGAL, that Badme is a proxy US occupation or of the

        injustice which all Eritreans are being forced to endure? They’re all in it harvesting refugees, asylum seekers and resources as I speak.

        SHUT

        DOWN THE MINES!

        It’s nothong but rape all around, rape of the wastelnd that my country has become and the forced displacement of my people and I

        from our ancestral lands.

        We demand elections President Afu WerQI ghebru tenQI.

        Eritrea FOR Eritreans!

        Reply

  5. oh look, another smear job by another “journalist” with “profound” non existent evidence who hasn’t ever been to Eritrea

    Reply

  6. The camel is marching while the Dog’s keep breaking !
    If yesterday was impossible to defeat Eritrea it’s impossible today !
    Some western journalist is working for good living not for professionalism.

    Reply

  7. Thank You Mr. McClearn for exposing the sad business of Nevsun’s involvement in Eritrea. By all accounts, Nevsun made grave mistake by solely considering the financial benefit without any regard to international laws, or the political situation of Eritrea. There is no question, Nevsun benefited from slave/forced labour in Eritrea. There in no labor to speak of in Eritrea that is not owned by the regime through the infamous national service program. PFDJ-owned companies routinely use free labour in large-scale industries, such as construction, manufacturing and mining. In this is case, it was Segen construction company that signed the deal with Nevsun. Nevsun made a deal with the devil and it is irresponsible of it to deny it didn’t where it was going into. This is the regime that is called the North Korea of Africa for its human rights violations; a regime that has not held any elections for 21 years; a regime that is known for its horrendous violations of freedom of speech, worship and opinion. Eritrea is currently one of the biggest refugee producing countries and it has got to do with its infamous national service/slavery. Nevsun should have known better. But it long decided it’s only business in Eritrea is just that business and for that innocent Eritreans dearly paid for it.

    Again thank you Mr. McClearn for your brave explosive revelation.

    Ghezae Hagos

    Reply

    • Tsegatat Adey n’dekha

      tefeTere ember

      n’elfi sebahat seb haTyet

      aitefeTeren!

      Tsegatat Adey n’dekhum dekha

      tefeTere ember

      n’elfi kolesti beleEti seb

      beleEti seb iwe, n’seb kebdi

      AITEFETERN!

      Tsegatat adey n’Hemumat

      n’sinkulat

      n’meshakin deKi dekha

      tefeTere ember

      n’elfi hasowti sheyeTi hagher

      n’elfi meganenti sheyeti hezbom

      AITEFETEREN!

      Tsegatat Adey n’mekhan

      n’mishkineyti mekhan.

      Tsegatat Adey n’mahayem

      n’meshakin mehayem!

      Tsegatat Adey n’aday ember

      n’aboi aitefeTeren!

      Tsegatat Adey n’etta dekha aday

      ember, n’elfi hafatem Adey

      AITEFETEREN!

      Tsegatat Adey ne z’areghe.

      Tsegatat adey ne z’ dekheme.

      Tsegatat Adey ne z’ zekhteme.

      Tsegatat adey ne z’ serehe

      b’dekham z’hasese

      ne z’fahshewe

      n’HAFASH

      Awet n’hafash Adey!

      Tsegatat Adey n’etta TeEmti

      t’rehreh aday!

      Tsegatat Adey n’etta zenebeEt

      birikhti aday!

      Tsegatat Adey n’etta z’kheberet

      sunkelti aday!

      Zenebet aday!

      Zenebet aday aboi,

      ZENEBET!

      Angodgodet

      ta’esat gomorra aday.

      GhelbeTet! TegalabeTet.

      Kone timnit aboi!

      Reply

    • Yes, Ghezae! Exactly Ghezae and you want to become the next Eritrean President so that you can do the same

      thing to us all over again, mish do`? Guess what Dan Connell wants? – GOLD! And what would ugly and toblaQ

      Martin PLAUT want? – GOLD/oil/copper! But the fact of the matter is that ERITREA is NOT ready to sell ANY

      of her resources! Because until we build a fool-proof socialist system with which we reinvest revenues so that

      they return to meet to the needs of the people, we’ll never get anywhere. Since Aesop’s time we’ve been running,

      since Pushkin’s Eritrean ancestor too was sold off asa slave by his own parents/people, since the biblical

      JOSEPH’S and Moses’ time. A government that killed a poet like Amanuel Asrat? Why would one kill a harmless

      poet? HOW can one kill the beautiful soul who wrote ‘DEMETEY’, how? How long will our women be called

      whores because each and every government since time immemorial has cheated them of their rights? For how

      long will we sit and watch as The West fattens itself on our labour, our resources, our corrupt politians’ SHORT-

      SIGHTEDNESS and our own megheneni CULTURE.? Kab baAl Sudan aihashkumen Eritrea because our people

      and government do NOT listen to women like myself for for how long have I been obsessing about women’s

      rights Eritrea? How long? But you wouldn’t let me work in peace Eritrea, you chased me out Eritrea! Just like you

      chased ERMIAS EKUBE, SABA KIDANE and even MICHAEL ADONIA out. Yes, even Adonai has had enough. It is our

      culture that’s the problem, let me come home to modernise my culture so that we can finally get somewhere!

      AWET N’HAFASH! AWET N’HAFASH! AWET N’HAFASH! MESEL deQi anestiyo Eritrea y’taHalew!

      1) No mets-haf!

      2) No meghessam!

      3) No injera mesankat, open a thousand nda injeras bc AISENKETEN iyae!

      4) No meghesas!

      5) Yes, to abortion in cases like rape etc

      6)No, to endless wars!

      7) We must install systems for pensions, alimony.

      8) MODERNISE etc

      Reply

  8. THE CAMEL IS KEEP MARCHING WHILE THE DOG’S KEEP BREAKING !!!

    Yesterday E.P.L.F TODAY P.F.D.J !

    Reply

  9. Eritrea is not in North Africa..

    Reply

  10. This is a tip of the iceberg…Crimes being committed in Eritrea at this time are unheard of even in colonial history of our land. The main reason for the Eritrean regime not to allow independent investigator from the country is because always the regime covers up truth, reports lies and kills thousands. It is very sad money greedy Canadian companies and their CEOs are accomplice to the suffering of Eritrean people. Only few greedy company owners make money from exploitation mining Canada gets nothing.

    Reply

  11. http://www.nevsun.com/projects/bisha-main/gallery/#!prettyPhoto/0/. Watch and learn

    This is yellow journalism at its worst. A little research instead of cut and paste trash is more advisable. U r hurting Canadian business operating in Eritrea by your lies and innuendos. Eritrea is z epicenter of reason and sanity, peace and harmony, justice and human dignity. Canadian com are on their way out. The Chinese Yaun is the king Africa today.

    Reply

    • Who cares about Canadian business if Eritreans are enslaving their own people? Worse, i suspect they used Sudanese slaves. ELECTIONS! I demand ELECTIONS! i demand that Canada hold itself accountable for exploiting my people. I demand that ILLEGAL US-SANCTIONS be lifted. Is Canada not a US ally? You THIEVES! MURDERERS! BLOOD-SUCKING VAMPIRES! Leave my country, let resources be the diamonds under the soles of my feet. GREED! EXPLOITATION.CORRUPTION! VIOLENCE! OPPRESSION! Every single human vice is present here.

      Reply

  12. Muhurat Adey abay alewa? Abay alewa itin kezareba zeyferha? Qedem atselilkumen Eritrea! Ane ghen deheni

    alekhu, KULU TEGHEBREWO ZELEKHUM GHEBENAT k’ts-hefo iyae. Bukri gual lusun masegnan

    WANAM tsehafi TESFAINKIEL GHERMAI iyae. Shermuta aikhonkun iyae, yeshermuTekum! FeleTewo ETI

    zarghemekum!

    Reply

  13. WHY has MATTHEW McCLEARN been fired if he’s not telling the truth? Only the truth kills in this resource-guzzling system of evil enslavement, debt and ecquisition of unrightful wealth. NEVSUN get out of Eritrea!

    Reply

  14. I demand that the my kinswomen, compatriots and I be granted the same human rights as white Swedes, WHITE GERMANS, WHITE AMERICANS etc

    I demand that the Eritrean woman be granted the same rights as the white SWEDISH woman, I demand that my kinswomen and I

    be free to to walk any street in any country without being harassed,

    I demand that domestic violence, rape and prostitution be abolished in Eritrea.

    Reply

  15. GOEritrea, THIS is how we SHALL abolish/eradicate prostitution from our streets and culture. One does not eradicate prostitution by punishing the

    prostitutes. Just like the Swedes do, one eradicates PROSTITUTION by punishing/penalising the customer (in the Eritrean case, it is usually a man). If any man living in Eritrea is to be

    found buying sex, he is to be fined 10000Nakfa. End of story because PROSTITUTION TOO is a form of SLAVERY and if we Eritreans are to be

    egaletatrian in word and deed then we must act accordingly. In any society/culture/country/civilisation the respect of HUMAN RIGHTS begins with

    the respect and implementation of women’s rights to economic and/sexual and/other freedoms.

    Reply

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