Switzerland’s Metalor, one of the world’s leading gold refiners, will stop sourcing from artisanal mines to reduce the risk of illegality in its supply chain. A decision that could impact African gold panners.
Suspected in the past of buying gold from traditional gold mining sites and mined under illegal conditions, the firm from La Tène (north-western Switzerland) decided to take a major hit by announcing on Monday 17 June that it would now rely solely on industrial mining supplies. In his statement, Metalor’s CEO, Antoine de Montmollin, explained that « the increasing complexity of the supply chain[in the precious metals sector] makes it increasingly difficult for Metalor to continue its commercial relations with artisanal mining operations ». This decision was welcomed by several civil society organizations. The Society for Threatened Peoples (SPM), a Swiss NGO that has been defending the rights of indigenous peoples for 30 years, believes that « a responsible attitude on the part of refineries is the prerequisite for the cleanliness of precious metals from artisanal mining » and that, ultimately, « to be compatible with human rights and the environment, the supply chain must be as short and transparent as possible ».
However, in the short term, Metalor’s choice could have serious consequences for African gold panners, who are often forced into dangerous extraction processes – using mercury or cyanide – and who coexist as best they can with the major mining companies. According to Artisanal Mining, a community-based initiative dedicated to « small-scale mining », artisanal mining, often illegal, provides a livelihood for millions of people on the continent (see graphic below). For many of these small craftsmen, the loss of part of their turnover is therefore most likely.