Canadian mining giant Nevsun has appealed a lower court ruling that allowed a lawsuit filed by Eritrean workers to proceed in British Columbia. Canada’s Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to throw out the case.
At the heart of this case is the question of who is ultimately responsible for providing redress to victims of forced labor in global supply chains. The abused Eritrean workers were military conscripts working for government-owned construction firms subcontracted by Nevsun to build a mine in Eritrea.
Nevsun refutes this, saying that the Eritrean military never provided labor to the mine, but added that even if it did Nevsun should not be held responsible as it was a subcontractor that employed the workers.
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that this case is being watched closely as it could set precedent in international law:
Nevsun said that it was inappropriate for a British Columbia judge the legality of a sovereign state’s conduct, calling it an issue of national importance for Canada. Nevsun said the B.C. ruling was “out of step” with international consensus and common law courts that do not recognize damage claims based on breaches of international law.
A Supreme Court ruling could shield Nevsun from similar actions by 59 other Eritrean nationals, it said, and avoid the case devolving into a “complicated, difficult and expensive inquiry into the lawfulness of the acts of the State of Eritrea within its own territory.”
Nevsun previously argued the case should be dismissed and any lawsuit should be heard in Eritrea, not Canada.
The case is closely watched by Canadian miners operating abroad because its outcome could increase litigation risk.
In affidavits, six Eritrean men recounted that they were forced to work at Nevsun’s Bisha mine from 2008 to 2012, where they dealt with “hunger, illness, and physical punishment at the hands of military commanders.”
If Nevsun loses at trial, the Vancouver-based company would likely have to pay compensation to victims working within its supply chain for “severe physical and mental pain and suffering.”