In 2011, the Canadian company Nevsun and the state-owned company ENAMCO (Eritrean National Mining Corporation) started a joint-venture in the extraction and production of gold, followed by coal and zinc in the Bisha mine in northern Eritrea.
According to current reserves, the production could continue until 2025 but further exploration could extend this production for a longer period.
Nevsun noted that in the first five years, the Canadian company could contribute up to USD 800 million in revenues through taxes, royalties and returns on investments. According to the Tesfanews website, the Bisha mine generated over $ 2.4 billion in revenues, of which $ 1.2 billion is directly allocated to the Eritrean economy.
Swiss banks must interfere in the day-to-day business of Nevsun
In an article published by RTS, the Swiss National Bank said: „we do not interfere in the day-to-day business of companies„, but the bank also indicated „we apply very clear ethical exclusion criteria“ for questions such as „violation of fundamental human rights.“
What are these ethical criteria for exclusion? Have they taken into account the massive violations of fundamental human rights in Eritrea such as the abuses listed below?
– Use of forced labor through individuals enrolled in military service. The working conditions are inhumane. In her latest report, the UN Special Rapporteur highlighted that the Canadian court found that the cases of six former workers at the Bisha mine could proceed in Canada. Former conscripts explained to : „Life was very harsh.“ The temperature was 38C or 40C. We never had a full stomach. My work was constant.“ Another worker explained „He worked in Bisha as a administrator for five years, working six and a half days a week, feeding only lentil broth and bread and was paid $ 28 a month. „He devoured my youth.“
– A national budget has never been published. Since the independence of the country, no report on State income and expenditure has ever been published. Since the start of mining in 2011, no one knows what happened to the large sums generated by the mining sector. Major shortages of water, electricity, medicines and other basic necessities are observed throughout the country (including the capital).
– Monopoly of companies affiliated to the single party. Businesses affiliated to the single party get all business. They use forced labor as labor.
– Judicial system under the orders of the President and the generals. Despite the abusive context, workers have no way of resorting to justice even when they wish to express legitimate grievances.
– Constitution of the country remains suspended. There is no solid legal framework which holds the government accountable for violations. Nor is there a check and balances between the single party (PFDJ) and the government.
It should be noted that the main reasons why Eritreans leave their country today are based on the absence of the rule of law and the numerous and serious violations that result from the absence of the rule of law.
How can Swiss banks rectify their position?
In this era of consciousness transformation and corporate social responsibility, IFE calls on the two Swiss banks to take into consideration the latest UN resolution on the situation in Eritrea where it:
„Encourages business enterprises to carry out appropriate human rights due diligence in order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their human rights impact, including with respect to allegations of use of conscript labour;“
* * *
In conclusion, it is essential that Swiss banks do not contribute in any way to the physical and mental suffering as well as the powerlessness of the Eritrean population. The ethical criteria of exclusion must be applied as long as conscripts are forced to work under degrading conditions where the mere fact of opposing this system, which is contrary to all human dignity, could land them to imprisonment or even worse. Although the interest of corporation is „purely financial„, as stated by the Swiss National Bank, it is also in the corporations‘ interest to have a deterring role vis-à-vis authoritarian states such as Eritrea in order to ensure a long-term stable business environment and especially respectful of the workforce in charge of the operations.