One of the major problems in the gold supply chain is the extraction of gold in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), where know-how and infrastructure often remain basic, and where the legal framework for exploitation is weak or non-existent. Yet this working environment, which provides only 20% of the world’s gold, employs more than 20 million workers – men, women and children – worldwide. According to a study just published by Brügger (2020), there are 12 industrial mines in Burkina Faso employing a total of around 7,000 people. In contrast, two out of three families earn their living in artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations. This corresponds, for Burkina Faso in 2001, to between 100,000 and 200,000 people working at around 200 different sites. However, this figure amounts to between 1 and 1.2 million people directly or indirectly dependent on ASM in Burkina, providing a low, but existential income for a large number of actors in gold mining.

Guaranteeing the origin of gold in such a context is extremely difficult, and only possible in a well-defined context, with a definition of a research question that can be solved with analytical methods. We therefore place our study at the interface between an industrial and artisanal mine, and in a semi-industrial or collector’s context. We have privileged access to industrial and semi-industrial mines and collectors located in Peru in the Coastal Andean Cordillera, the Altiplano, the Andean Cordillera and in the Amazon, thanks to the support of SBGI.

Concretely, this sub-project has two objectives: firstly, we want to understand the possible evolution of the isotopic and chemical signature of the deposit during the pre-refining of the gold; secondly, we want to evaluate the possibility to guarantee the origin of the gold in these less formalised contexts.

For this, we plan to study production sites in producing countries, particularly in Latin America (Peru, Colombia). This study requires access to quality samples, which will be collected by us in two phases. The samples will then be analysed at the University of Geneva (isotopes) and the University of Lausanne (chemical composition).

The interest of this work is to enable Swiss refiners to work with artisanal and small-scale (or semi-industrial) mines while ensuring the origin of the gold. Indeed, refiners no longer want to work with partners who do not offer robust guarantees in terms of compliance, thereby excluding these artisanal and small-scale mines, depriving tens of thousands of workers of stable incomes and forcing them to work with partners who are not very concerned about their working conditions.


Implementation partner :        SBGI (Swiss Better Gold Initiative)

Research partner:                     University of Lausanne and of Geneva

Duration of this sub-project:   5 months

Financial resources required:  entirely funded