Dirty Gold

With the ‘No Dirty Gold!’ programme, the STP is taking action worldwide against dirty gold mining and for transparency in the Swiss gold hub.

Photo: Daniel Schweizer

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Destructive gold industry

For millennia, gold has been closely interwoven with the history of humanity. The coveted metal has long been used for jewellery and decorative splendour, and more recently to make watches and electronics. Over the years, gold mining has also remained inextricably linked to destruction of nature and loss of human life.

Gold mining is ruining our most important ecosystems, such as the Amazon. Mercury is used to separate gold from rock, poisoning soils, people and animals. The social impact is also enormous: human rights violations, violence, exploitation and misery are rife around the mines, which entire regions are driven to become economically dependent on. Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit: the mines destroy their habitat and they are subjected to violence on a massive scale by illegal gold miners.

This injustice may seem far away, but Switzerland is entangled in it. Major buyers, such as banks and the watch industry, are situated here. In addition, 70 per cent of the gold worldwide is processed or traded in Switzerland, where the world’s four largest refineries are to be found. Not many people in this country are aware of that, which is hardly surprising given the secretive and opaque nature of the gold industry. The latter repeatedly processes or trades high-risk gold from extremely problematic regions, as shown by past and current examples: be it sanctioned gold from warmongering Russia, gold obtained inhumanely from mines in Peru, or gold acquired from the United Arab Emirates, where tonnes of dirty gold is laundered every year. Time and time again, Switzerland is involved in concealing the origins and abysmal production conditions of problematic gold.

What STP is doing against dirty gold

In the Amazon, gold mining is destroying the rainforest and thus Indigenous habitats. Also elsewhere, many mines are having a severe impact on the environment and the local population. Nevertheless, Switzerland keeps importing gold from such areas. The STP is taking action against this with its ‘No Dirty Gold!’ programme.

The STP holds Swiss refineries responsible. For that reason, as part of the Swiss Coalition for Corporate Responsibility, it is calling for transparent supply chains and for Swiss corporations to finally accept accountability for their actions outside Switzerland. That means ensuring humane production conditions, compliance with environmental standards and inclusion of the local population – who should first be allowed to decide whether to consent to the mining. Together with the Swiss Coalition for Corporate Responsibility, the STP is calling for a due diligence obligation to be enshrined in law, and for a supervisory authority to be put in place. In the event of violations, it must be possible to punish corporations effectively.

In its ‘No Dirty Gold!’ programme, the STP monitors the impact of global resource mining. For instance, it has released reports demonstrating how high-risk gold reaches Switzerland from Peru or Brazil, where the rights of the local, mostly Indigenous, population are violated on a massive scale. Other research shows how gold from armed conflicts in African countries reaches Switzerland via the United Arab Emirates.

The STP has accompanied Indigenous delegations from Brazil to the UN and to Bern, in order to raise public awareness and exert pressure on the gold industry. In this way, it has already been able to bring about significant concessions. Striving for more transparency, the STP has gone all the way to the Federal Supreme Court. The scandal-ridden industry and the hesitancy of Swiss politicians show that there is still a lot to do before the Swiss gold trade is finally clean.

People & stories

Achievements with regard to gold

Gold industry speaks out for indigenous rights

2022: Following the visit of a delegation from the Brazilian Amazon, five major gold refiners and the Swiss Association of Manufacturers and Traders in Precious Metals released a landmark statement: they condemned illegal mining and advocated that indigenous and local communities must have a say in projects.

Metalor announces withdrawal from small-scale mining operations

2019: Metalor - one of the world's largest gold refineries based in Neuchâtel - announces its withdrawal from artisanal mining. The STP welcomes this step as a short-term solution. In the long term, however, better conditions in gold mining are necessary for the many people who depend on artisanal mining for their survival, as for example in Colombia and Peru.

Peru's judiciary suspects ex-supplier of Metalor of illegal activities

March 2019: The Peruvian public prosecutor’s office suspects a former supplier to the Swiss refinery Metalor of money laundering and illegal gold mining. A year earlier, the STP had pointed out questionable gold imports from Peru to Switzerland.

Struggle for transparency

January 2019: After the Data Protection and Information Commissioner supports STP's request for access to detailed gold trade statistics, the Directorate General of Customs now also wants to grant the request. The gold refineries file an appeal with the Federal Administrative Court.

Gold imports from UAE collapse after revelatory GfbV report

Following the publication of a STP report on dubious gold from the United Arab Emirates, exports to Switzerland fell sharply. While the Emirates were still Switzerland's largest gold supplier in January 2018 with over 21 tonnes of gold, six months later not a single gram was imported from this country.

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