“I was Pleasantly Surprised to find a Modern Mine that has Been developed According to International Standards”
Lloyd Lipsett is the President of the LKL international consulting, co-author of the Nevsun and ENAMCO commissioned Human rights impact Assessment. Here is an excerpt of an interview conducted with him.
-What is your background?
I am a Canadian lawyer from Montreal and I have been practicing international human rights law for most of my career.
In the last 7 or 8 years, I have developed a specialization in human rights impact assessments, which are new tools to help foreign investors, businesses or development projects avoid having negative impacts on people.
I have worked on numerous human rights impact assessments of mining projects in Canada and around the world. Sometimes I work with companies, sometimes
I work with communities and sometimes I work with multilateral organizations like the United Nations or the World Bank, so I try to understand the different perspectives about the human rights concerns related to mining and natural resource extraction. For example, in addition to my assessment of the Bisha Mine, I am currently working with an Inuit community about a new mine in Canada’s most northern territory, Nunavut.
-How many times have you visited Eritrea?
This is the fifth time that I have visited Eritrea over the last two years. I have spent the majority of my time at the Bisha Mine, but I have also spent a fair bit of time in Asmara and have visited the port of Massawa on one occasion. I plan to return to Eritrea in the coming months for some follow-up work on the latest HRIA report and hope to see some of the other areas where mines are being developed.
-Tell us a bit about your field research in preparation for the HRIA?
The field research is a key component of the HRIA process. This involves interviews with affected stakeholders. In other words, I spend a lot of time interviewing workers at Bisha and the people and leaders in the community.
This is the primary information that I have to understand the issues that I need to prioritize in my reports. I undertake individual interviews in private and try to create a setting in which workers or community members feel comfortable to tell me about their perceptions and concerns.
I also have conducted focus group interviews with male and female workers at Bisha to get information about trends related to worker satisfaction and turnover.
I also meet with BMSC managers and the different government departments that monitor the Bisha Mine so I can understand the regulations and policies that have been put in place that are relevant to human rights.
This includes things like the environmental and social management plans, human resources policies, security policy and health and safety policies and procedures.
In my last visits, I have been meeting with the government’s Impact Review Committee to learn more about their role in monitoring the Bisha Mine.
In particular, I am in interested in learning about how they are going to apply what they have learned at Bisha at the next mines that are being developed.
Another important component of the field research has been some auditing activities with the Eritrean companies that have contracts with Bisha.
The purpose of this is to ensure that these companies are following the law and regulations that prohibit national service workers in the mining sector. We have also started to have dialogue about other issues related to the rights of their workers.
– How accessible was BMSc? GOE? Etc…?
I have been fortunate to get unfettered access to all the people and locations that I need to do my work. So, I had no difficulty in requesting meetings with senior government officials just as much as I am able to speak to any worker or community member that I choose when I’m down at site.
The fact that BMSC and ENAMCO are supporting the HRIA process is important, both in terms of facilitating access and also in ensuring that the recommendations from the reports are being implemented at site.
-HRIA reports are usually one-time reports, what pushed for a follow-up?
Yes, that’s correct that the vast majority of HRIAs are one-time reports. However, this has evolved into an ongoing process whereby I’ve recently produced a follow-up audit report and the intention is to do further field work and monitoring in the coming year.
After the first report was published in April 2014, a number of stakeholders in Canada and Europe requested that there be some monitoring of how BMSC is doing on implementing the recommendations from the first HRIA report.
This led to the follow-up assessment activities over the last year and the recent HRIA audit report.
This is a positive development because it has allowed me to investigate some emerging issues that workers and community members raised, and it also it supports ongoing due diligence at the mine.
In my discussions with other HRIA practitioners, this issue of follow up is an important subject. So the process for monitoring and follow up audits that has been initiated at Bisha is a very good precedent for how other HRIAs can be developed in other places.
-What would you say is the most striking contrast between what is reported in the media and your on- the-ground experience in Eritrea?
The reality at the Bisha Mine was much different than I anticipated when I first came to Eritrea after reading all the reports. I was pleasantly surprised to find a modern mine that has been developed according to international standards.
I also have appreciated the level of interest in the human rights impact assessment process and the openness to discuss issues, challenges and opportunities for ongoing improvement.