Sourcing

Gemfields Sued Over Alleged Human Rights Abuses

SourcingApr 19, 2018

Gemfields Sued Over Alleged Human Rights Abuses

The colored stone miner said it would “vigorously defend” itself against the allegations surrounding its ruby mine in Mozambique.

A shot of Gemfields’ Montepuez ruby mining site in Mozambique
London--A group of Mozambicans have filed a lawsuit against London-based colored gemstone miner Gemfields over alleged human rights abuses at the company’s ruby mine.

According to a post on the website of Leigh Day, the law firm that filed the suit, more than 100 Mozambicans say they suffered a number of abuses at the hands of the security forces at the Montepuez mining site, which is 75 percent owned by Gemfields.

The claims made in the lawsuit include allegations of being “shot, beaten, subjected to humiliating treatment and sexual abuse, unlawfully detained, and/or forced to carry out menial labor.”

Leigh Day added that four Mozambicans are bringing claims forward on behalf of their sons, who were allegedly shot and killed by the mine’s security forces.

Matthew Renshaw, a lawyer in the international department at Leigh Day, told National Jeweler via email that ultimately, the claimants are alleging that Gemfields “breached its duty to them by allowing these alleged human rights abuses to happen at the mine.”

He said the colored stone miner has a high level of control over the mine and has assumed responsibility for what happens there, including in regards to its security operations.

“They (claimants) contend that Gemfields is, therefore, responsible in law for what is alleged to have happened to them at the mine,” Renshaw said.

Leigh Day chose to file the suit in the High Court in London because it is the city where “Gemfields has chosen to base itself, it is where it enjoys its profits, and where the claimants argue it has breached its duties to them.”

Gemfields is now 100 percent owned by Pallinghurst after completing the acquisition in July 2017. It has held its mining licenses at Montepuez since 2011.

When contacted, Gemfields and Pallinghurst both directed National Jeweler to the statement on the former’s website that was issued in February, when Gemfields was first advised that Leigh Day had filed the claim.

In the statement, the colored gemstone mining company said it would “vigorously defend” itself and added that it takes “allegations of this nature extremely seriously and denounce any form of violence or abuse.”

It also noted that Montepuez provides human rights training to employees and service providers, and offers the training voluntarily to the Mozambican police and government forces. It also hosts tours of its operations for people who are interested in assessing the company’s practices.

And while Gemfields acknowledges that past instances of violence have occurred at Montepuez, wherever they happened, Gemfields said the mine took, “decisive and appropriate steps, working closely with the authorities, including providing humanitarian assistance to artisanal miners and community members.”

It’s difficult to say how long the lawsuit could take it wind its way through London’s High Court.

Leigh Day filed the claims earlier in 2018 but said Gemfields was served with the suit this month.

Renshaw said the next formal stage in the litigation process is for Gemfields to file a defense to the claim. Defendants normally have four weeks to do this, but could ask for longer if they need additional time to investigate the allegations.

Cristina Villegas, director, mines to markets of nonprofit Pactworld, which works to improve the lives of people in marginalized areas around the world, sent the following statement to National Jeweler via email when contacted for context on the situation: 

“Montepuez is a difficult operating area. There is intense competition over surface-level mineral resources, which compounds all the normal issues a larger-scale miner faces in the first place.

“Artisanal and larger-scale miners can operate in the same area, but it requires a lot to be able to do this, such as having the right governance climate, including settled land issues and clear rule of law. But when poverty, unsettled land tenure and high-value materials are all found in one area, even if you try to do everything right, you can find yourself in the middle of conflict.”
Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

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