SECO - Swiss Better Gold Association: the highlights of 2020, the Swiss Better Gold Initiative

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Despite a challenging year for all stakeholders involved in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) value chains, there are serious efforts done to increase the sustainability of the sector.

In the collective memory, 2020 will remain as the year of a global pandemic causing immense impacts and disturbance across the planet. Amongst other sectors, the outbreak of the Coronavirus exposed the already vulnerable ASM group even more. Poverty, amplified insecurity, health issues and limited access to governmental services marked the year of many ASM miners. The value chains were - and some still are – massively disturbed. Production, as well as the demand for responsible gold, have both been affected by the sanitary and the economic crisis. Reacting to the threats from the Corona outbreak in ASM, the Swiss Better Gold Initiative has immediately replied with several emergency measures, thereby demonstrated not only the continued engagement for the ASM, but also its flexibility, driven by mutual trust established among the stakeholders.

Within this complex and dynamic context, many measures on different levels have been implemented by the public private partnership. The following list (non-exhaustive) shows a couple of those measures achieved in 2020:

Swiss Administration

Switzerland submitted a proposal to the World Customs Organization (WCO) regarding an amendment to the international customs duty classification for gold. The aim of the proposal is to improve transparency and traceability in the international gold trade by making it possible to distinguish between various classes of gold. Switzerland will already implement the proposed amendment for gold imports into Switzerland from 1 January 2021. The existing competitive conditions for the Swiss gold sector will be maintained at international level.

The Swiss Parliament approved the Swiss international cooperation strategy 2021–2024. This strategy lays the legal ground for future interventions in the development cooperation, and hence also for the Better Gold Initiative.

The Swiss Government is in a close dialogue with various stakeholders, including the civil society organizations, academia, the refiners and commodity traders on the Swiss proposal for increasing transparency, competitiveness, innovation, sustainability and dialogue for the sector.

The Federal Council adopted the revised CSR Action Plan 2020-2023 and hence confirmed the commitment to responsible business conduct. The CSR Action Plan sets out expectations of companies with regard to their conduct, as well as the Confederation’s CSR-related activities.

The Federal Council approved its anti-corruption strategy for the 2021–2024 period. This strategy defines numerous objectives ranging from prevention and law enforcement to international cooperation.

The Swiss Better Gold Association 

The Swiss Better Gold Association is a non-profit industry association, which groups key players of the Swiss gold industry. As such, it represents the Swiss markets for responsible ASM gold, which is eager to support this sector in improving its social and environmental practices and facilitate access of ASM gold to the market.

From the very start of the coronavirus outbreak, the association has put all its efforts and energy on maintaining existing ASM supply chains operational, despite all logistic and sanitary obstacles resulting from the pandemic.

Further, the Swiss Better Gold Association and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) co-implemented a range of extraordinary ASM support measures to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on ASM miners.

In Colombia, eight small mining operations participating in the Better Gold Initiative received $100,000 to alleviate the economic difficulties resulting from the confinement. These funds covered two main aspects: implementation of biosecurity protocols at operations and safeguarding jobs while facing this difficult period.

A similar support action was also deployed in Peru, where the Initiative focused on helping the small-scale gold mining operations to safely resume their activities, within the challenging COVID-19 context.

Further, the Initiative also urgently delivered 1’300 food parcels to the traditional artisanal gold panners, ‘barequeros’, from Chocó in Colombia and 570 parcels to small gold operations in Bolivia. Indeed, the negative effects of this crisis on local economies where artisanal mining activities are impacted due to confinement and logistics restrictions brought the Initiative to the conclusion that this type of urgent action is needed to support our ASM partners.

To conclude, SECO and Swiss Better Gold Association confirm that both partners are committed to support Artisanal and small-scale miming though their common Swiss Better Gold Initiative despite all challenges and difficulties of this year. Indeed, current social, economic and political circumstances illustrate that there is as a growing public and consumer expectation in embracing and reinforcing corporate sustainability practices and, without any doubt, the Better Gold Initiative clearly illustrates that ASM producers can definitely be the reliable, responsible and resilient business partners that the downstream gold industry can count on.