Largest Swiss refinery purchases gold extracted by children

How can it be that every year Switzerland imports tonnes of gold from Togo, a non-producer country? The report “A Golden Racket”, published today by the Berne Declaration, reveals that this gold comes from artisanal mines in Burkina Faso, where it is extracted under abysmal conditions, by adults and children alike. It is then smuggled over the border to Togo, imported into Switzerland by a Geneva-based trading company and sold on to the world’s biggest refinery, Valcambi. The report underlines the political necessity to establish binding due diligence measures for Swiss commodity firms.
© © Pep Bonnet/Noor/Keystone, 2015

In 2014, almost 7 tonnes of gold was imported into Switzerland from Togo. With a set of exclusive documents in hand, the Berne Declaration (BD) set off to climb the supply chain, tracing it back to artisanal mines in Burkina Faso. Once extracted and semi-refined, the gold is smuggled to Lomé in Togo, where it is bought by a subsidiary of the Ammar Group, an agglomeration of companies owned by a Lebanese family. From there, the gold is imported into Switzerland by Ammar Group’s Geneva-based subsidiary, MM Multitrade, and sold to the Ticino-based refinery, Valcambi.

In Burkina Faso’s artisanal mines, 30 to 50% of the labour force are children. They risk their lives descending highly unstable and poorly ventilated mine shafts in pursuit of this precious metal. Safety equipment is unheard of. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has classed this among the “worst forms of child labour”.

For the world’s 7th least developed country, gold smuggling equates to the loss of important revenues. According to BD’s very conservative estimates, this loss amounted to almost 6.5 million Swiss francs in 2014 – a sum equivalent to one quarter of the total development aid Switzerland sent to Burkina Faso in the same year. 

It’s not easy for the Ammar Group or Valcambi to overlook the dubious origin of their gold. In its Code of Conduct, Valcambi even boasts about its “highest traceability standards over the entire supply chain” and its scrupulous application of sector standards, including those aimed at preventing human rights violations along the supply chain. Meanwhile, the Swiss authorities continue to turn a blind eye, relying on the industry’s voluntary initiatives to ensure that Swiss companies are not implicated in human rights violations. These measures are clearly insufficient, as this report shows. Last March, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that they too are “preoccupied by the fact that [Switzerland] relies solely on voluntary measures”, demanding that the authorities establish “a clear regulatory framework”. This demand is directly echoed by the Responsible Business Initiative, launched in April by the BD and a large coalition of Swiss NGOs.

Photos are available free of charge.

More information here or by contacting

Oliver Classen, BD Spokesperson, +41 44 277 7006, oliver.classen(at)