A British mining company that owns the exclusive jeweller Fabergé is being sued by more than 100 Mozambicans who claim that they were shot, beaten and sexually abused.
Lawyers issued proceedings yesterday at the London High Court against Gemfields over alleged activity around a mine in northern Mozambique, which the company owns through a subsidiary.
The claimants allege that artisanal miners and members of the communities surrounding the mine have suffered “serious human rights abuses” over several years at the hands of security forces at the subsidiary, Montepuez Ruby Mining.
The claimants contend that Gemfields has a “mine to market” strategy and so is actively involved in the running of the mine.
The claimants allege that they have been shot, beaten, subjected to humiliating treatment and sexual abuse, unlawfully detained, and forced to carry out menial labour. Four are bringing claims on behalf of their sons who were allegedly shot dead by security forces on the mine.
Gemfields specialises in producing coloured gemstones and until recently it was listed on the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange. Last year the business was bought by another UK mining company, Pallinghurst, and it was reregistered as a private company in January this year.
Gemfields’ describes itself as “a world leading supplier of responsibly sourced coloured gemstones” and its management promotes the company as having an ethical responsibility in its operations.
But lawyers for the Mozambican claimants claim that the company’s public profile is hypocritical. “Our clients’ allegations of abuses carried out on men and women are extremely serious,” Matthew Renshaw, a lawyer at the London law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the claimants, said.
“Gemfields has a responsibility to the communities in which it mines, and from where it sources its immense wealth, to ensure that those who work for them or on their behalf respect local laws and international standards.”
Mr Renshaw added that the firm had decided to issue legal proceedings in London because that “is where Gemfields has chosen to base itself, it is where it enjoys its profits, and where the claimants argue it has breached its duties to them”.
A spokeswoman for Gemfields said the company was taking the allegations “extremely seriously” and that it “denounced any form of violence or abuse, and will vigorously defend our hard-earned reputation as a leading supplier of responsibly sourced coloured gemstones”.