It is not new to the world when certain factions misuse natural resources to finance or advocate conflict which has become a common phenomenon over the last few decades: from crude oil in the Middle East, timber in Cambodia, blood diamonds in Sierra Leone and Angola and even gold in low income countries. Very often natural resources provide a means to finance as they are internationally tradable assets which are mobile and easy to dispose off. Without appropriate measures, these assets may find their way towards funding armed groups that are conditioned to overlook human rights and grossly neglect humanitarian laws.
The Democratic Republic of Congo for Instance was responsible for 0.8 % or 22 tonnes of newly mined gold, but because of the countries weak governance coupled with the fact that most of the gold mines are artisanal small scale mines, they are often subjected to the whims and fancies of armed groups who frequently extort them, therefore the possibility of the gold produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo getting into the gold supply chain is minimal. These are only some of the issues as incidences of forced labour by armed groups, low wages, adverse working conditions, negligent mining practices and conflicts continue to be highlighted and the only way to deter these incidences is by obstructing gold mined under these conditions to get into the supply chain.
However this is not an easy task as gold from independent small mines are usually melted down and mixed with gold from other sources (usually with recycled gold – 35 % of the annual gold supply comes from recycled gold) and sent off to end users through a complex transactions which make them virtually impossible to be traced back to its origins. It is largely due to the availability of ready buyers that these armed groups are brazen about their activities as once the gold artisanal and small scale mines reach a refinery, their origins cannot be traced and therefore refineries have become a strong element in the value chain of armed groups and establishing a relationship with a refinery that would accept their gold (knowingly or unknowingly) is all that they need.
Recently the World Gold Council has launched a ‘conflict free gold program’ which aims to stop or prevent gold from conflict zones or high risk areas from reaching refineries and subsequently end users as this would be an effective measure towards eliminating these conflicts and bring reprieve to those who bear the brunt of these armed groups.
However, it is undeniable that artisanal mining is a vital economic activity in some places and if it was not for the gold, the communities in these places would be left without nothing and based on the fact that a significant proportion of mining in these places are illegal and operate beyond government supervision it is prone to smuggling which is often backed by armed groups.
Proving that a gold batch is from these situations or sources is the first step, but a difficult one undeniably.