Swiss Better Gold Association: 'We Are Proud Of Our Results, So Far'

(MENAFN- Swissinfo) A Swiss initiative has become a global point of reference on how to responsibly source Gold from the artisanal mining sector by harnessing the power of public-private partnerships. More than a decade after it was launched, SWI swissinfo speaks with the CEO of the Swiss Better gold Association, Diane Culillas, about the challenges and opportunities ahead. Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) today accounts for only 10-20% of global production and employs 90% of the gold mining workforce.

This content was published on May 21, 2024 - 09:00 11 minutes

A multimedia journalist, Dominique Soguel began her international reporting career at Agence France-Presse covering the Arab Spring. She also served as the Istanbul correspondent for the Associated Press before moving to Switzerland in 2016. A native English and Spanish speaker with Swiss roots, she loves to travel and will take any opportunity to chat in Italian, Arabic and French – preferably over coffee. No tea, thank you!

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ASM is still viewed by many in the gold industry as a high-risk sector and therefore avoided entirely by some refiners. Gold extraction by small-scale miners can have negative environmental impacts. The most visible are deforestation in biodiverse regions like the Amazon region and waterways contaminated by mercury (miners use mercury to extract gold from ore as an amalgam). Gold mining also has a history of encroaching on Indigenous lands and child labour in some areas. This interview comes in the wake of a blaze that killed 27 people at a Peru mine that had been certified as responsible and amid discussions to expand the programme to Africa.

But times are changing. The London Bullion Market Association, which sets the standard enabling the global trade of gold, released a responsible sourcing toolkit focused on ASM in March.
“A major signal that we are trying to send is the boycott is over,” said LBMA CEO Ruth Crowell.“We want to look at sourcing from ASM responsible way.” The Swiss Better Gold Initiative launched in 2013 was highlighted as one way of achieving that goal.

The initiative is a private-public partnership supporting artisanal and small-scale gold producers in extracting their gold in ways that benefit the community but limit damage to the planet. That can mean technical support in moving away from toxic mercury use to extract gold and formalising mining activities. The Initiative
is co-funded and co-implemented by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and
the Swiss Better Gold Association.

How does it work? Participating miners embark on a continuous improvement program and are paid a premium for their gold. The money flows to a fund and is then reinvested into community projects. The gold is bought up by Swiss refineries like Metalor and jewelry brands like Breitling and Cartier.

We speak with the CEO of the Swiss Better Gold Association, Diane Culillas, about expanding implementation and how to further reduce risks after the fatal mining accident in Peru.

SWI swissinfo: The SBGI initiative has existed for just over a decade. What have you achieved?

D.C.: We have entered the 11th year and are pleased with the constant progress we have recorded so far. The first year we worked with one mine, Sotrami (in Peru), exporting 27 kilos. Today we export from about 35 to 40 mines, and we have reached, exports of three tons and a half a year from Colombia and Peru. We have also increased the number of members of the Association over the years to a total of 24 today.

SWI swissinfo: You are also active in Bolivia...

D.C: We don't export anything from Bolivia yet. It is very challenging. There is the problem of mercury, and we feel that the country needs more preparatory work in terms of awareness and use of mercury.
Bolivia has signed the Minamata Convention [an international agreement to reduce global mercury use] but there is still no national action plan articulating an exit strategy for mercury. We need a little more of a policy dialogue work first before we can start doing something in terms of accreditations and exports.

SWI swissinfo: In total, how many miners have benefited from the program?

D.C.: About 60,000 miners. That's 130 mining operations across the three countries.

SWI: Is that enough considering that in each of the countries where you operate, you have 1 million people dependent on ASM?

D.C.: You have to start somewhere. Actually, we are expanding our activities every year and are proud of our results so far. But yes, we're still very young. All these processes take time. It takes at least two years from the time when you initiate technical activities with a mine, to bring them all the way across the escalator [progressive improvement programme] and be eligible as responsible producer. And then you have one more year to start eventually facilitating the export. Miners are usually very suspicious, it is a question of confidence and trust, and it takes time to build this trust.

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