Date: Saturday, 23 June 2018
Nevsun Resources Ltd. has vehemently denied allegations of human rights violations at the Bisha gold mine, of which it owns 60 per cent. In 2013, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watchalleged myriad problems at the mine — including that the company allowed the use of “conscripted labour” through arrangements with the Eritrean government.
In public statements and court filings the company denied that it worked with the Eritrea government to build or find labour for the mine, said it doesn’t allow conscripted labour, and that it has checks in place to guard against its use.
In 2014 four refugees, formerly Eritrean nationals, sued Nevsun in a B.C. court, arguing they had been forced to work at the Bisha mine, and claiming damages related to slavery, torture and inhuman treatment.
The parties disagree about where it should be allowed to be heard. The plaintiffs want to hold Nevsun to account in a B.C. court, while Nevsun said a Canadian court shouldn’t get to decide the case — especially because it implicates the Eritrean government.
Nevsun denied the refugees making the claim were “subjected to forced labour or abused or mistreated at all,” according to B.C. court filings. The Vancouver company also argued it isn’t liable for their treatment anyways, because it was not the direct employer of the miners, and that a B.C. court should not have jurisdiction over the case pertaining to the actions of another country.
The B.C. Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the company’s arguments that the case should not go forward in 2017.
“The defendant says it did not owe the plaintiffs a duty of care, nor did it conspire with others to breach any such duty,” reads a portion of a B.C. Court of Appeal decision by Justice Mary Newbury, “and that the several corporations in the corporate ladder between itself and the (Bisha Mine Share Company) are entitled to the protection of limited liability.”
“Other jurisdictions have been willing to hold corporate actors accountable for violations of jus cogens,” she ruled. “And over time, the doctrine of act of state has been limited by public policy considerations said to be part of domestic law.
“Reasonable persons and reasonable experts in international law would seem to hold different views … on the effect of the Convention Against Torture on states’ domestic laws.”
This month, the Supreme Court of Canada gave Nevsun gave leave to appeal that decision, which means the company will have another chance to argue against the case going to trial.
Nevsun did not immediately respond to The Star’s request for comment.
The development in the high-profile case comes after a pair of recent Supreme Court decisions broadened the scope of employer responsibility under the law in this country. The two cases found employers liable for human rights and workplace safety infractions, despite the fact that the harmed workers were on contracts with third party companies.