Worldwide, more than one million children work in artisanal gold mining. The electronics industry is the third largest consumer of gold for the production of mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices. However, the sector is not taking any steps to eradicate child labor in gold mining.
Despite the fact that the sector has proven to be capable of creating and leading initiatives that concern its value chain, such as conflict minerals, on issues of child labor eradication, SOMO affirms that they are doing nothing.
The researchers studied the magnitude and seriousness of child labor in artisanal gold mining. They also tried to establish the relationship between gold mining, including supply chain links, with the electronics sector. To this end, a field study in Mali examined the conditions of children working in the gold mining fields.
Consequences of child labor in Mali
Twenty percent of all miners in Mali are children. These children are sent to extraction zones by their families for economic reasons. In Mali, girls generally start from the age of 8, while boys start later, around 12 years of age. They work long hours alongside their adult colleagues doing the heavy and dangerous work. This leads to a variety of health problems, such as respiratory and lung diseases, skeletal injuries, and various eye and skin diseases. But it also affects their development and frustrates their future, as they drop out of school.
The gold supply chain
The report shows that, in several cases, gold from artisanal mines in Africa, where child labor is documented, has ended up in major gold refineries located in Switzerland. The local artisanal gold supply chain in Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Mali begins with an on-site buyer selling to a local trader, who in turn sells to a local exporter. From here, it is exported to gold refineries in Switzerland, either directly or through international gold traders. But gold can also be delivered to Swiss refineries in another way, through the process of mixing illicit gold (from artisanal mining) in formal commercial channels. This often requires smuggling, falsification of documents (classifying gold as scrap), and over-reporting of legal production. Swiss refineries such as Valcambi and Metalor, and others, act as the interface between end users and gold suppliers.
The role of electronics companies
The amount of gold used by the electronics sector per year is around 279 tonnes, with a value of ten million euros. This makes the sector, after the jewelry industry and the financial sector, the largest buyer of gold in the world and a powerful player. While consumer electronics manufacturers indicated that they do not accept child labor, they are not taking effective measures to eliminate child labor in the gold mining industry.