Business has a direct and indirect impact to the lives of world citizens. It is for this reason that UN Human Rights Council came with a new frame of “Business and Human Rights” to oversee due diligence of the way business is conducted in countries in relation to human rights.
In 2005, The UN Secretary – General Kofi Annan appointed a Special Representative John Ruggie of Harvard Professor to oversee the gap between business and human rights and in 2008, John Ruggie came out with a proposed framework on “Business and Human Rights” to the UN Human Rights Council which was unanimously approved states that –
- The state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business;
- The corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and
- Greater access by victims to effective remedy, both judicial and non-judicial.
And in 2011, the Special representative issued “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy framework’ . This framework was also endorsed by UN member countries to become the world’s first comprehensive guidance for companies to report on how they respect human rights.
The UN guiding principles on Business and Human Rights applies to all States and to all business enterprises, regardless of their size, sector, location, ownership and structure. Its foundational principle (1), it states –
“States must protect against human rights abuse within their territory and/or jurisdiction by third parties, including business enterprises. This requires taking appropriate steps to prevent, investigate, punish and redress such abuse through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjunctions.”
And in regard to any company that is hosted in state territory, the UN Principles on Business and Human Rights states,
States should set out clearly the expectation that all business enterprises domiciled in their territory and/or jurisdiction respects human rights throughout their operations.
It is within this general principle that I am calling to all companies which are currently operating in Eritrea to take their responsibility of conducting businesses that has no harm to Eritrean citizens.
As the world knows, Eritrea is accused of its systematic and widespread violation of human rights that might amount to crimes against humanity since its independence (1991). This systematic crimes is a state sponsored that is conducted at a governmental level. It is one of the worst widespread crimes the world is witnessing after 2000. Though Eritrean government continue to reject this accusation, facts in the ground are clear enough to prove how far these violations are widespread.
Today, Eritrea is the worst country according to the world press index, the second most producer of political refugees (first Syria), a country with the highest number of political prisoners, a country that has no university but it runs more than 360 secretive prison networks, forced labor is a norm, civic liberties is absent and associations free of PFDJ political influences are prohibited, religious freedom is absent and often religious leaders are subjected to prison and house arrest, etc. Worse, every citizen is forced to join military unites for unlimited period of time.
Under this condition, it is not simple to figure out whether a business is operated free of human rights violations or not. According to UN reports in 2015, a Canadian mining company, Nevsun, which has been operating mining activities since 2008, is accused of using Forced Labor by individual Eritreans who happen to work in the company since its establishment in Bisha Mining center. And UN has accused Nevsun for using forced labor. More than fifty (50) Eritreans have open a lawsuit case civil action in Canada against Nevsun. These Eritreans are former construction works at Bisha Mining center without their concert. A construction company which is owned by the ruling regime of Eritrea provided these working men and women as part of an agreement between the two companies. And these individuals were military conscripts. As a result, Nevsun is accused of using Forced labor.
Though Nevsun is the only company that is brought to the court so far, there are many international companies that are currently operating in Eritrea. The State is the main provider of human resources. And, this is done through a pre-conditioned agreement of human resources supplies. There is no doubt that the state uses its conscripted men and women to make profits.
Though it is hard to make a complete list of companies that are currently operating in Eritrea, some of these companies that I have general information are from China, Sweden, France, Canada, USA, South Africa, Australia, Italy etc. In this article, I will mention some companies that are currently operating in Eritrea.
Nevsun is a mid-tier, copper-producing, mining company headquarters in Vancouver, Canada. Founded in 1965, this company had operated in two other African countries(Ghana and Mali). Currently, it is operating in Bisha Mining center, Eritrea.
Though it is believed to have social responsibility programs in Bisha Mine, and the company has been producing annual reports since 2011, the company has faced serious allegations on violating human rights of using Forced labor in its activity.
Nevsun has put in its vision about Human Rights as follows –
We believe in treating everyone equally and with dignity and respect. We support inclusiveness and diversity of opinions in the decision-making process.
So far, Nevsun Company is refusing such allegations though the number of accusers is increasing substantially.
May be for many Eritreans, this company is not known but its global existence is huge in the in the information technology. What might be new to many, including well informed Eritreans is about the existence of this company in Eritrea.
From credible information I had, Huawei is behind Eri – Tel, the only internet and telephone service Eritrean national company. Huawei provides the most talented Engineering professionals that work in the design and programming technology center of Eri – Tel by making a sub – contract. Very few Chinese staff members are stationed in Eritrea.
As we know, Eri – Tel is the main violator of human rights in Eritrea by making communication services restricted and checked for every single network. Eritreans are heavily spied both inside and outside Eritrea. Eri- Tel works closely with the only existing political regime to make massive surveillance on dissent Eritreans.
According to their web information, Huawei believes in the power of dissolving boundaries to work more closely with the world.
Huawei is a threat to Eritrean privacy and cyber security. There is no information disclosed about the business relationship of this company in Eritrea. So far, it remains secret to the world.
This American company has a long existence in Eritrea. Almost all machineries of high quality that involved in every development projects and war zone are operated by the use of Caterpillar machines.
Caterpillar Company has a head branch office in Eritrea where every activity concerning these machines are conducted. Machines that are imported to Eritrea are in use in the construction of prison centers, war trenches, mining centers, etc. And all skilled professionals who run these machines are forced military conscripts who are facing forced labor.
For example, Bisha Mining Company uses these machines in its mining operations. There is no doubt that this company is involved in the gross human rights violations of Eritreans by being the main supplier of the regime that is involved in crimes against humanity.
Total is a French giant oil company that has been operating in Eritrean for decades. It is the main supplier of oil products to Eritrea. Currently, it is expanding rapidly its activities by installing new infrastructures.
Though Total Company is private, it follows strict regulations put by Eritrean government in price regulation and coupon systems that are implemented to control oil and gas distribution in Eritrea. The ruling regime has heavy hand in the regulation of Total business activity.
Eritrean citizens do not have a freedom to buy their fuel needs from the company without the permission given from the government.
In addition, the fuel sold to the government is used in areas where forced labor is exercised. And for security purpose, forced conscripts are used as guardians of Total centers, especially in deposit areas that are installed in Northern Red Sea and Maekel region.
Danakali Limited is a new company established between Eritrean National Company (ENAMCO) and Australian owned private company called Danakali on a 50:50 joint venture. This company is currently working in the establishment phase and license application to start its mining exploitation activity.
The area it operates to native settlers of Afar people. Afar are Eritrean people who happen to live in the Danakil areas for centuries in peace and harmony until they faced a serious threat to their own survival. The Ruling regime has made life miserable for these people by banning them to conduct their traditional economic livelihood in the Red Sea. As a result, more than 35,000 Afar families are forced to flee from their native land and live in refugee camps along the border in Ethiopia.
Installation of Danakali Company in Collul area has also added to their freedom of movement restrictions as the area is heavily guarded by military force.
Not only this, Danakali Company is using military force to protect for its security. And these military forces are forced conscripts who have no freedom to decide for their life but work as forced conscripts.
To conclude, the list I provided above is not exhaustive but indicative. There are many companies that are currently doing business in Eritrea. Though Eritrea may not guarantee human rights of its citizens, each company which is operating in Eritrea has a responsibility of not involving or act as leverage in the violation of human rights. If any company is involved in such acts, respective parent country has a responsibility to call for this company to fulfill its human rights obligations by conducting due diligence. The case of Nevsun is one typical example. Other countries have also a responsibility to follow UN guiding principles on Business and Human Rights as it is endorsed in 2011.
As Eritreans, we have to work out in increasing international awareness about the business conduct of any company that operates in Eritrea. Today, any business activity has a potential link in the gross violation of human rights in Eritrea. As far as the regime continues to remain in power, any business activity is prone to human rights abuses. And we need to stay alerted and be whistleblowers whenever necessary so that we can bring these companies to accountability.