Refiners using gold from Ghana may be benefitting from hazardous child labour in unlicensed mines, according to a human rights organisation.
A report by Human Rights Watch said some international refiners lacked control over their supply chains and called on them to take immediate steps to eliminate the use of child labour.
The report, Precious Metal, Cheap Labor: Child Labor and Corporate Responsibility in Ghana’s Artisanal Gold Mines, said thousands of children work in Ghana’s artisanal and small-scale gold mines in hazardous conditions, despite both Ghanaian and international law prohibiting the practice. Most of the children are aged between 15 and 17, but younger children also work in mining.
Children have been injured and killed in mine collapses, and suffered from pain and respiratory problems caused by the work. They also risk brain damage and other life-long disabilities from mercury poisoning, the report claims.
Human Rights Watch said artisanal and small-scale gold mining is poorly regulated in Ghana, and many local gold traders have done little to determine whether the gold they buy is produced with child labour. It called on companies to have clear policies against child labour, to require regular monitoring with unannounced inspections, full chain-of-custody documentation, and ensure all contracts with suppliers include specific language prohibiting child labour.
“Some work may be acceptable for children, but Ghana’s unlicensed gold mines are very dangerous places where no child should work,” said Juliane Kippenberg, senior children rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. “Companies buying gold in Ghana should exert control over their whole supply chain to make sure they’re not benefiting from child labour.”
“Governments should make human rights due diligence a requirement in producing countries like Ghana and where the gold gets traded and refined, such as Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates,” Kippenberg said.
Also, more should be done to stop the use of mercury in artisanal gold mining, she added. “The government of Ghana has done far too little to protect its citizens from this toxic chemical. It should promptly start introducing mercury-free gold processing techniques, and ratify the Minamata Convention and put its requirements into effect.”