Can Switzerland clean up the ‘dirty’ gold trade?

Makeshift camps and craters filled with water caused by illegal gold mining activities are seen from a police aircraft over the area known as La Pampa, in Peru's Madre de Dios region Keystone / Rodrigo Abd

Our analysis of what the biggest global companies in Switzerland are up to. This week: dirty gold, climate change, Nestlé and looking ahead to WEF.

This content was published on January 17, 2020

There are no quick fixes to cleaning up the ‘dirty’ gold trade but the situation in mining communities in Peru reveals that there is still so much we don’t know about the source of the problems.

Most of the world’s gold passes through Switzerland but how it gets here has been hard to trace. As investigations in Peru by my colleagues Dominique Soguel and Paula Dupraz-Dobias reveal in a new special reportExternal link, there has been so much focus on rooting out illegal mining at the very start of the gold trade.

But in fact, a lesser-known problem is the criminal networks and illegal traders and buyers that make it difficult for Swiss companies to know if they are importing illegal gold. The investigation showed that traders try to conceal the illegal origins of gold by mixing it with legitimately obtained gold.

Colleagues found that violent crackdowns on illegal miners are not enough to eradicate dirty gold from the supply chain. You need an army of accounting experts to go through the invoices.

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There are no easy answers as Swiss gold refinery Metalor learned when it was accused of importing illegal gold from Peru. The company denied the accusationsExternal link, arguing that documentation showed the gold was produced at a legal mine when it bought it from its supplier Minerales del Sur.

While investigations continue, the company decided to stop sourcing from PeruExternal link altogether and from any artisanal miners in South America. But some say that calling it quits is not a solution. Then what is?

What do you think? Send us a message. dominique.soguel@swissinfo.chExternal link.

In other news:

The Siemens coal mine decision is having reverberations in Switzerland. Amid major bushfires in Australia, the German industrial conglomerate had a moment of reckoningExternal link when it was targeted by climate activists, including Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, for helping Indian company Adani’s coal project in Australia. The company has been lauded for its strong climate policies, which only led to more questions about companies’ sincerity in tackling climate change.

While Switzerland isn’t a big player in fossil fuels, as the NZZ pointed out, the case shows how quickly a company’s reputation can be pilloried today for doing business with the fossil fuel sectorExternal link.

There is a lot to cheer about on the health innovation front when you hear stories like this about the youngest person to receive gene therapyExternal link for a deadly disease like sickle-cell disease. But questions about funding these treatments, their price tagExternal link, and who pays and has access to them aren’t going away.

Nestlé is expanding its infant nutrition offerings for older babies. But some industry critics can’t seem to shake the company’s past scandals and struggle with trust issues. We spoke to Nestlé, mothers and campaigners about what responsible practices look like for the wave of new products designed to address allergies and fill nutritional gaps for older babies.

What’s coming up? I’ll be at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos next week scouting stories and assessing the sincerity behind commitments to stakeholder capitalism.  Ping me with questions or if you’ll be there too.

Follow me on Twitter @JPluessExternal link

Thanks for reading.

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