Today is the World Day Against Child Labor. But just a few days ago, I spoke to a group of boys working in artisanal, unlicensed gold mines in Ghana’s Ashanti region. One of them explained how he and his friends use mercury to process the ore, and how they regularly skip school to go mining.
Mining is one of the most hazardous types of child labor, yet Ghana and many other countries have large numbers of children working in the sector. Children breathe in dust that may cause them to cough blood, work in pits that sometimes collapse, and are exposed to toxic mercury fumes without knowing the health risks. The International Labour Organization estimates that about one million children work in artisanal mining.
International gold refiners hold significant power in the supply chain, as fewer than 20 companies refine most of the world’s gold. They should take the lead in introducing and promoting a strong standard to eradicate child labor from their supply chains. Unfortunately, the industry generally has fallen far short of that goal.
In an investigation published earlier this week, Human Rights Watch found that several international refiners that source from Ghana – such as Switzerland’s Metalor Switzerland, Dubai’s Kaloti, and India’s Kundan – have not implemented sufficient measures to ensure that gold mined by children doesn’t enter their supply chains.
Several Ghanaian export companies, including the government-owned Precious Minerals Marketing Company, buy gold from local traders who ask no questions of local miners – other than if they are buying real gold.
But some companies are taking important steps in the right direction. For example, one exporter in Ghana, AsapVasa, said his company was exclusively buying gold directly at licensed mines, in order to have full control over the supply chain and be able to monitor working conditions. The Switzerland-based gold refiner PAMP has put robust due diligence procedures in place.
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