Gemfields, has warned that illegal miners – including juveniles – are putting their lives at risk and facing “modern slavery” in Mozambique.
The London-based company, which owns 75% of Montepuez Ruby Mining (MRM) in Mozambique, has observed increasing numbers of illegal miner pit collapse incidents in 2019, resulting 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.
In addition, MRM has carried out an investigation into the illegal mining activities in the Montepuez area of Mozambique, finding that most of the illegal miners are not from the local area and are controlled by syndicates and middlemen who take advantage of poverty and unemployment.
The investigation found that the illegal miners, some of whom are juveniles, are typically recruited by well-financed syndicate leaders or middlemen who entice their recruits with promises of ruby mining fortunes.
The illegal miners (and/or their families) may be asked to make a payment to the syndicates in order to be granted the “opportunity” and be provided by the syndicates with transport to, and food and accommodation in, the Montepuez area.
When it is established that they cannot pay these fees upfront, the syndicates offer to provide a loan which the illegal miner is to repay later from his ruby mining activities, thereby placing the illegal miner in debt with the syndicate.
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” via 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.
The investigation concludes that these illegal miners are deliberately being put into debt bondage by middlemen and syndicate leaders, who exploit conditions of poverty and unemployment in struggling communities, thereby practising a form of modern-day slavery.
In addition, the influx of illegal miners damages the social fabric of local communities due to alcohol and drug abuse, domestic and sexual violence, and environmental problems relating inter alia to village water sources being used and silted for washing ruby bearing gravels.
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.