Eritrea is on the verge of political and economic collapse. Foreign mining companies provide a controversial life-line to this country's corrupt and increasingly repressive government, led by President Isaias Afewerki. The foreign companies - from Canada, Britain, China, Australia and Bermuda - are complicit partners in this East African country's unsavory politics and appalling labor conditions.
Like many African countries, Eritrea is laden with sought-after natural resources. Rich deposits of gold, silver, copper and zinc have attracted numerous companies from the global North. The mining companies are encouraged by Afewerki's low-cost requirements for mining rights. In neighboring Sudan and Egypt, the governments own fifty-percent and sixty-percent of mining rights respectively; whereas, in Eritrea state participation can be as low as ten-percent!
A more sinister issue lies at the heart of these foreign mining ventures: working conditions comparable to slavery.
Foreign mining firms rely on local labor - mostly subcontracted by government owned companies. These workers are "recruited" through a "national service" program - which controls a workforce that has risen to around 300,000. Those enrolled are paid a pitiful $12 a month. The foreign mining companies pay the government up to $300 a month for these workers, allowing Afewerki and his cronies to pocket the $288 difference.
The much-trumpeted "corporate social responsibility" of mining companies in Eritrea - like Nevsun Resources Ltd., Andiamo Exploration, London Africa, Zhongchang Mining and Sub Sahara Resources - is clearly nothing but veneer. There is nothing responsible about siphoning millions of dollars from a country in desperate need, supporting a corrupt and repressive regime and encouraging abhorrent labor practices.