Despite a challenging year for all stakeholders involved in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining value chains, there has been serious work done to increase the sustainability of the sector.
Actions taken to combat the vulnerability of Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners
In our collective memory, 2020 will remain as the year in which a global pandemic caused immense impacts and disturbances across the planet. Among other sectors, the outbreak of Coronavirus exposed the already vulnerable Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (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 economic crisis. Reacting to the threats from the Coronavirus outbreak in ASM, the Swiss Better Gold Initiative (BGI) has immediately responded with several emergency measures, whereby demonstrating not only the continued engagement for 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 several of the measures achieved in 2020.
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 implement the proposed amendment for gold imports into Switzerland from Friday, 1 January 2021. The existing competitive conditions for the Swiss gold sector will be maintained at an 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 civil society organizations, academics, refiners and commodity traders on the Swiss proposal for increasing transparency, competitiveness, innovation, sustainability and further 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.
Swiss Better Gold Association
The Swiss Better Gold Association (SBGA) 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 into keeping existing ASM supply chains operational, despite all of the logistical and sanitary obstacles resulting from the pandemic.
Further, the SBGA 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 $100,000USD to alleviate the economic difficulties resulting from the confinement. These funds covered two main aspects: implementation of bio-security 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.
© Yirka Roldan BGI
Supporting Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners
To conclude, SECO and SBGA confirm that both partners are committed to supporting Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining though their shared Better Gold Initiative despite all the challenges and difficulties we have seen this year.
Indeed, current social, economic and political circumstances illustrate that there is a growing public and consumer expectation in embracing and reinforcing corporate sustainability practices.
Further, 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.
 A PDF is available in French here.
 A PDF is available in French here.
Diana Culillas, Secretary General at SBGA, started her professional path at the International Committee of the Red Cross in the context of the first Russian-Chechen conflict. She then spent 14 years in Africa, Asia and Middle East by being involved in different humanitarian projects. From 2008 to 2018, as the CSR Manager at Chopard Group, she established and oversaw numerous sourcing, environmental, work-life balance and philanthropic initiatives of the brand. Today, Diana leads the SBGA, a pioneering network of industry, finance and service providers representing Swiss gold industry, which supports sustainable development of artisanal small-scale miners and establishes responsible gold value chains from these operations to end market.
Monica Rubiolo, Head of Trade Promotion at the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO, leads SECO’s efforts to foster trade in developing countries that is socially responsible, environmentally friendly, inclusive and thereby sustainable. This includes supporting framework conditions for sustainable trade, enhancing international competitiveness and market access of SMEs and producers alike, and strengthening a resource-efficient private sector in partner countries. Monica Rubiolo obtained her PhD from the University of Tübingen, Germany, and published extensively on issues related to economic development. She was Assistant Professor at the Catholic University in Cordoba (Argentina) and has also taught at the Universities of Tübingen (Germany) and Bilbao (Spain). She has worked in Taipei, Taiwan, and at the European Institute of Latin American Studies (IRELA) in Madrid. She joined SECO in 2003, focusing on public financial management and financial sector support.