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The True Source of Switzerland’s “Togolese” Gold

Switzerland imports tonnes of gold from Togo every year. Yet, this small West African country doesn’t produce any. Where does this gold really come from? Public Eye set off to trace this precious metal to its true source: artisanal mines in Burkina Faso, where children risk their lives every day.

Upon receipt of exclusive documents from a source, Public Eye climbed the supply chain of this “Togolese” gold from the Ticino-based refinery, Valcambi, to Burkina Faso’s artisanal mines, where adults and children work under abysmal conditions.

Children as young as 12 years old carry out the same tasks as adults. Working in artisanal mines constitutes one of the “worst forms of child labour” – in other words, work that “jeopardises the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child,” according to the International Labour Organisation.

In the mines

The supply chain

© Public Eye Click on the infographic for more information on the gold supply chain.

How does “Togolese” gold make it to Switzerland?

Every year, thousands of tonnes of mined gold are imported into Switzerland. Yet, we know very little about the origin of this precious metal. Swiss refineries claim that their supply chains are subjected to very strict controls.

On the contrary, our investigation reveals that the gold imported from Togo in fact comes from artisanal mines in Burkina Faso where it is extracted under abysmal conditions by a labour forced composed of between 30% and 50% children.The gold is then smuggled to Togo by an extensive contraband network, depriving the Burkinabé state of important tax revenues. Meanwhile, half of the Burkinabé population live below the poverty line.

Once in Lomé, Togo’s capital, the precious metal is bought by a Lebanese family, which exports it – legally, by this point – to its Geneva-based arm. The gold is then sold to Valcambi, Switzerland’s largest refinery. Although Valcambi claims to apply “the strictest” standards to protect human rights along the length of its supply chain, in reality it doesn’t appear too concerned about the true origin of its gold. For their part, the Swiss authorities “prefer not to know”, in the words of a source from the Federal Police.  

Voluntary measures are not enough

The problematic origin of Valcambi’s “Togolese” gold refined in Switzerland underlines once again the inadequacy of voluntary measures adopted by companies in order to protect human rights. The Federal Council itself has recognised the risks associated with this highly lucrative industry and has emphasised the importance of improving measures to ensure transparency and corporate responsibility. Yet, efforts to prevent imports of gold that are the proceeds of corruption, environmental harm or human rights abuse appear to be failing.

In April 2015, Public Eye and over 60 other Swiss organisations launched the “Responsible Business Initiative”. This political initiative demands that Swiss companies are required by law to conduct due diligence to ensure that their activities do not contribute, directly or indirectly, to human rights violations or environmental damage.  

Work with us

Tens of thousands of children risk their lives in Burkina Faso’s artisanal mines. In order to ensure that the gold refined in Switzerland is not extracted under such terrible conditions, companies must engage and take responsibility for their entire supply chains.

Ensure that Swiss companies are legally obliged to respect human rights and environmental norms in all their business, whether at home or abroad.

We work here, in Switzerland, to uphold respect for human rights. Every donation supports our work and helps us to fight against the impunity of Swiss companies.