Maputo — The company Montepuez Ruby Mining (MRM), which is largely owned by the British concern Gemfields, has denounced the "modern slavery" to which illegal miners in the Montepuez area, in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, are subjected.
A statement from MRM received by AIM on Wednesday said that the illegal miners (known as "garimpeiros") are thrust into debt slavery by the illicit consortia and middlemen who recruit them.
According to the data collected by MRM, most of the garimpeiros come from Nampula province, some 400 kilometres south of Montepuez. They are unemployed young men, easily attracted with promises that they will make a fortune out of mining rubies.
The illicit mining consortia provide their recruits with transport to Montepuez, food and accommodation. But the miners have to pay for this, and since they are usually unable to pay in advance, the consortia advance them loans which must be repaid later out of the proceeds from their work. This is the entrance to an unending debt trap.
Once in Montepuez, they are taken to the illegal mines, where they face inhuman and extremely dangerous working conditions. They are given food, water, accommodation and tools - but the product of their labour is sold higher up the illicit mining chain, and the garimpeiros only receive a small fraction of its worth.
"Since they are in debt to the consortium, and they have no money available, the miners cannot return freely to their original homes", said the MRM document. "As a result they are effectively the victims of modern slavery".
MRM also notes a rise in the number of accidents due to the collapse of illegal mining shafts, leading to the loss of several lives in the early months of this year. MRM says it has provided "humanitarian assistance in rescuing the victims, signposting the mines, and raising the awareness of the communities about this illegal practice".
MRM says it is cooperating with the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy and the Cabo Delgado provincial government to reduce the risk and the exploitation of vulnerable groups and to identify the promoters, middlemen and financiers of this illegal activity.
Many of those running the illegal mines are foreigners, and in a major offensive against illegal mining, the police, in 2017 and 2018, arrested and deported about 7,000 people. They had come, not only from neighbouring countries such as Tanzania and Malawi, but from as far away as Senegal and Mali.
MRM adds that the influx of illegal miners damages the social fabric of Montepuez communities due to alcohol and drug abuse, sexual violence, and environmental problems such as polluting village water sources.