JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Coloured gemstones company Gemfields has been transparently proactive in rebutting claims of human rights abuses in Mozambique, where it mines rubies.
"We've voluntarily elected to issue this statement," Gemfields, headed by CEO Sean Gilbertson, commented in a release on Monday about UK-based law firm Leigh Day filing a claim in the High Court of England and Wales against Gemfields and its subsidiary, Montepuez Ruby Mining (MRM), on behalf of 29 individuals living near the MRM ruby mining licence area in northern Mozambique.
The company stated in the release to Creamer Media's Mining Weekly Online that the court process had not yet commenced on account of the claim filed not yet being served on Gemfields or MRM.
Should the claim be served, Gemfields and MRM would vigorously defend themselves against the claim, whether in the English courts or otherwise, the coloured gemstones company revealed, as part of its commitment to transparency as a member of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (Voluntary Principles), collaborative principles set by governments, extractive companies and nongovernmental organisations that encourage respect for human rights.
Gemfields noted that a number of the allegations were a repeat of media coverage of 2015 and 2016 in South Africa, which had been ruled as "inaccurate, false and damaging" by the South African Press Ombudsman, who had ordered that an apology be issued.
Gemfields stated that the human rights training that MRM provided for employees, service providers, Mozambican police and government forces met the Voluntary Principles.
In addition, MRM frequently hosted tours of its operations by international and local press, government officials, nongovernment bodies, gemstone researchers and customers seeking to assess practices at their source of supply.
The claim, filed by Leigh Day, alleges that Gemfields and MRM are liable for human rights abuses that include the deaths and mistreatment of artisanal miners and the seizure of land without due process.
In many instances, the abuses, Gemfields stated, involved the Mozambican police and/or other Mozambican government forces, for which the claim sought to hold Gemfields and MRM liable.
Gemfields recognised that instances of violence had occurred on and off the MRM licence area, both before and after its arrival in Montepuez and that these had often been between rival groups of artisanal miners and their handlers competing for control of territory, or involving security forces, typically in preserving the safety and wellbeing of employees, service providers and members of the local community.
However, where such incidents had occurred, including instances involving its own employees, MRM had taken appropriate steps, working closely with the authorities, including providing humanitarian assistance to artisanal miners and community members.
Gemfields stated that it was working with its legal advisers in England and Mozambique to examine the claim fully and to defend its reputation as a supplier of responsibly sourced coloured gemstones.
MRM is the registered holder of a ruby mining concession in the area of around 340 km2, with the wider Montepuez ruby-mineralised area exceeding 10 000 km2.
Gemfields has 75% of MRM and Mwriti, its Mozambican partner, 25%. Together with other minority partners, Gemfields holds seven further licences in the Montepuez ruby-mineralised area, where MRM began operating in 2012.
Gemfields has for long stated that its aim is to lead a sector, which has historically remained unregulated and largely illicit, by showcasing the benefits of a more systematic, modern and transparent approach to coloured gemstone mining so that the industry becomes more responsible and legitimate, providing sustainable long-term social, economic and environmental benefits to both the country and local communities.
Since initiating operations in February 2012, MRM has provided direct employment to 1 110 people, 95% of them being Mozambican nationals.
The salaries of these unionised workers are reportedly above the national and industry average. This year, MRM is scheduled to equip 600 community members with new skills and jobs to build a resettlement village for 105 families.
MRM, which has invested $130-million in the project, had contributed $73-million to the Mozambican government in taxes and royalties by June last year.
MRM's first Mozambique ruby auction in Singapore in 2014 generated revenue of $33.5-million and the eight ruby auctions to June last year generated a combined $280-million.
MRM was the second biggest mining exporter in 2015 and the biggest overall exporter in 2016.
The presence of artisanal miners in the Montepuez region is said to be characteristic of the coloured gemstone mining sector in other regions of the world such as Tanzania, Madagascar, Malawi, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.