What role does Switzerland play in the international gold trade?

Marc Ummel: Switzerland is the main international gold hub. More than half the world’s gold is refined and processed here. Four of the world’s largest refineries are located in Switzerland. We’re talking about a volume of around 2,400 tonnes imported in 2022. This corresponds to a value of almost 100 billion Swiss francs – and is therefore by far the largest commodity imported into our country. Such market power is an obligation.

Does Switzerland accept this responsibility?

The authorities are aware of the risks, but legislation is too lax and controls insufficient. What’s more, the obligation to declare leaves plenty of room for loopholes. As far as origin is concerned, importers only have to document the last stage. This is problematic. Gold from countries in conflict or illegal gold is often transported by plane in hand luggage – and thus arrives in Dubai. There, it is sold off, melted down and resold. When this gold is imported into Switzerland, its country of origin is the Arab Emirates – but it could just as easily have come from Mali or the Democratic Republic of Congo. On the one hand, Switzerland conducts peace talks at the UN headquarters in Geneva. On the other, it is indirectly helping to finance wars and conflicts with dirty gold from countries in conflict. This is unacceptable!

Would a ban on artisanal gold mining help?

No, that’s what hurts people in the South the most. Small-scale mining supports millions of families worldwide. A ban would hit them hardest. What’s more, working in artisanal mines enables people to generate an income and find their own way out of poverty.

So how can we help people in the South?

What’s needed are stricter controls, greater transparency and direct collaboration with artisanal mines. In Tanzania, for example, a SWISSAID project aims to improve environmental and health conditions in artisanal gold mines in the north of the country. To achieve this, SWISSAID relies on two local partners specialized in this field. In addition to their direct work with the mines to develop minimum standards, numerous advocacy actions are carried out at local and national level to ensure that the artisanal gold mining sector benefits from better regulations and that these are enforced.”