NBC Newsmagazine Takes Aim at Gold Mining

If consumers are suddenly asking you where you source your gold, blame the Dec. 5 edition of Rock Center with Brian Williams.

The newsmagazine broadcast a two-part report that profiled the artisanal gold sector in Mali. As the price of gold rises, the program said, the sector has suddenly become a magnet for children. And not only are the children missing school and paid little for their work, but the toil involved can damage their spines. They are also exposed to possibly poisonous mercury. Artisanal gold mines can also be safety hazards, as demonstrated when correspondent Richard Engel crawled into a mine, eight stories below the ground, and showed it was being propped up by little more than wooden beams.

About 12 percent of the world’s gold supplies are produced by artisanal diggers, the report added.

Greg Valerio of London’s Cred Jewellery appeared on the broadcast touting “Fair Trade gold.” He said that “consumers need to drive change by asking for traceable gold.”

Engel drove that point home following the report.

“There is no system in place to find out if your gold watch and or wedding ring came from a place like [Mali],” he said. “What would be required is for people to ask questions and demand a [traceable] supply chain.”

The report was in part based on a new study on artisanal gold mining conducted by Human Rights Watch.

David Schraeder, spokesman for the World Gold Council, tells JCK in response to the report: “The World Gold Council and its members are opposed to the use of child labor in mining … Members of the World Gold Council, who account for more than 60 percent of total corporate gold production, adhere to regional and international safety and environment guidelines. Some have dedicated programs to directly help artisanal miners to produce more safely or to find alternative sources of work. However, to fully realize the economic benefits that gold mining can bring, we would wish to see a broad range of stakeholders working together to increase the formalization of Artisanal mining.” 

The timing of the report is auspicious, as the Responsible Jewellery Council recently announced it will certify companies’ “chain of custodies” for gold.