The shady origins of gold refined in Switzerland
The shady origins of gold refined in Switzerland By Riccardo Franciolli – SwissInfo
Most of the gold in the world passes through Switzerland. This is a business worth CHF70-90 billion ($70-90 billion) depending on the year. Gold arrives here in unrefined form, and leaves the country in all its glittering purity.
Sometimes, though, it is of highly dubious provenance. The government recognises the risk, which is why it recently issued a report on the subject. This report raises concerns over the exploitation of mine workers, and makes several recommendations to Swiss firms active in the field.
Swiss refineries process 70% of the unrefined gold mined in the world each year. Four of the nine major players in the global gold industry conduct most of their business here in Switzerland. While the gold originates in ninety different countries, roughly half of all the gold imported for processing in Switzerland comes from Britain, the United Arab Emirates or Hong Kong – three countries that produce no gold themselves.
Gold accounts for 63% of Britain’s exports to Switzerlandexternal link, 92% of the Emirates’ and 78% of Hong Kong’s. But then too, Switzerland imports a significant amount of gold from countries that largely depend on it as a main export, such as Burkina Fasoexternal link (where gold represents 72% of the country’s exports), Ghanaexternal link (51%) and Maliexternal link (77%).
As can be seen from the accompanying chart, some of the main gold producers are countries not exactly known for respecting human rights. But looking at the second table, we also see that among the gold producers are several countries at war, which use the profits from gold to bankroll hostilities. In all these cases, the phrase used is “illegal gold” or “dirty gold” or even “blood gold”.
An important economic sector
To show just how important this sector is for the Swiss economy: in 2017, for example, 2404 metric tons of gold were imported, with a value of about CHF70 billion. In the same year Switzerland exported gold worth approximately CHF67 billion. In other words, 24% of Swiss exports and 31% of imports were directly linked to gold.