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Fabergé owners face London High Court battle over alleged human rights abuses

Proceedings issued against Gemfields Ltd over alleged human rights abuses

Posted on 16 April 2018

Law firm Leigh Day has issued proceedings at the High Court in London against Gemfields Limited, a London-based mining company which owns Fabergé and whose celebrity endorsements have included Mila Kunis and Sophie Cookson. 

In the legal claims, over 100 Mozambicans allege serious human rights abuses on or around the Montepuez Ruby Mine in Northern Mozambique which is owned by Gemfields Limited’s Mozambican subsidiary, in which it holds a 75% controlling stake.

The formal proceedings were served on Gemfields Limited in April 2018. The Claimants allege that artisanal miners and members of the local communities surrounding the mine have suffered serious human rights abuses over many years at the hands of the security forces at the Gemfields’ mine in Mozambique. 

The claimants contend that Gemfields run a highly integrated operation, stating that they have a, “mine to market” strategy and so are actively involved in the operational running of the Montepuez Ruby Mine.

The claimants allege that they have been shot, beaten, subjected to humiliating treatment and sexual abuse, unlawfully detained, and/or forced to carry out menial labour. Four Claimants are bringing claims on behalf of their sons who were allegedly shot dead by security forces on the Ruby Mine. 

Videos showing some of the alleged abuse have been widely circulated online (warning graphic content). The Human Rights Commission of the Mozambican Bar Association reported in August 2017 that the videos show artisanal miners being beaten and abused within the mining concession. The Commission concluded that the perpetrators included both the internal security employees at the Ruby Mine, and Mozambican State security forces.

Gemfields Limited, based in London, specialise in the production of coloured gemstones. Until recently they were listed on AIM at the London Stock Exchange. They were acquired by Pallinghurst Limited in late 2017 and re-registered as a private company in January 2018. 

Gemfields’ tagline is that they are: “A world leading supplier of responsibly sourced coloured gemstones”. Gemfields claims that they are uniquely ethical and responsible in how they operate. 

Gemfields states:

“Gemfields vision is to be the global leader in precious coloured gemstones, promoting transparency, trust and responsible mining practices. Our approach has always been progressive and unconventional. … We seek to do things differently and to maintain a considered balance between people, profit and the environment.”

Whilst the public may not be familiar with Gemstones Limited they may be more familiar with the jewellery brands that use gemstones produced by Gemfields. 

Chelsy Davy’s jewellery brand AYA sources their rubies, tanzanite and emeralds from Gemfields. Gemfields also owns Fabergé, one of the world’s best known jewellery brands, with a history dating back to 1842.

There is a multifaceted security operation on and around the Ruby Mine in Mozambique, one of two major operating mines run by Gemfields Limited, alongside an emerald mine in Zambia. 

In the legal claims, the Claimants allege that a team of expatriate private security consultants head up the security operation in Mozambique and direct and control the other security personnel on the mine. 

Many of these expatriates have military backgrounds and are supported by a private security contractor called Arkhê Risk Solutions (a subsidiary of the South African company, Omega Risk Solutions) and the Mine’s own security force which they call the Quick Response Team (QRT). 

Matthew Renshaw, a lawyer in the international department at Leigh Day, who is representing the Mozambicans, said:

“Our clients’ allegations of abuses carried out on men and women are extremely serious. 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.

“We have issued claims on behalf of our clients in London. London 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.”