London-based Gemfields warned in a statement on Monday that illegal miners were putting their lives at risk and facing “modern slavery” in Mozambique, where the company owns 75% of Montepuez Ruby Mining (MRM).
The coloured gemstones miner has observed increasing numbers of illegal miner pit collapse incidents this year, which have resulted in the loss of multiple lives.
MRM has responded by providing humanitarian assistance in rescue and recovery operations, as well as by increasing on-site signage warning of the dangers of illegal mining and campaigning to raise awareness among the local communities and government officials to assist in tackling the issue.
Additionally, MRM has investigated the illegal mining activities in the Montepuez area of Mozambique, finding that most of the illegal miners – often juveniles – are not from the local area and are controlled by syndicates and middlemen who take advantage of those living in poverty.
The investigation found that the illegal miners are typically recruited by well-financed syndicate leaders or middlemen who entice their recruits with promises of ruby mining fortunes. The illegal miners or their families may be asked to make a payment to the syndicates to be granted the “opportunity” and be provided by the syndicates with transport to, and food and accommodation in, the Montepuez area.
Gemfields explained that, when it is established that the illegal miners cannot pay these fees upfront, the syndicates offer to provide a loan which the illegal miner has to repay later from his ruby mining activities.
The illegal miners are then deployed in illegal mining pits and subjected to abject and highly unsafe conditions, receiving tools, food, water and accommodation.
Gemstones recovered by the illegal miners must be “sold” through the syndicate to a “higher boss” and the illegal miner receives only a fraction of the sums involved.
“Indebted to the syndicates and with no spare cash, these illegal miners cannot freely return home and, as a result, the illegal miners are effectively bound in modern slavery.”
MRM is liaising with the Mozambican government through the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy, the provincial government of Cabo Delgado, the administration of Montepuez district and other Mozambican government entities to identify the sources of illegal activities and reduce the risk to, and exploitation of, vulnerable groups.