Without them knowing, gold consumers are coddling the illegal activities of some of the gold mines in Ghana. A report by Human Rights Watch revealed the country’s unlicensed gold mines are brimming with child laborers.
The children, mostly aged between 15 and 17, some younger, “pull the gold ore out of shafts, carry and crush loads of ore, and process it with toxic mercury.” Most of the items they produce end up in jewellery and electronics.
The report noted Ghana has laws that mandate children below the age of 15 cannot work as mine workers, and those under 18 cannot be made to work in hazardous conditions such as in the mines. It seemed though the country fails poorly in implementing the rule. The HRW report said it found children as young as nine working in small-scale mines. Majority of these mines do not have the required licenses. The illegal mines account for one third of the industry, the report added.
“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 HRW and report author. “Companies buying gold in Ghana should exert control over their whole supply chain to make sure they’re not benefiting from child labor.”
Ghana is one of the world’s top 10 gold producers. Its clients include major international gold refiners from Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries. Among the companies mentioned in the report were Metalor (Switzerland), Produits Artistiques Métaux Précieux (PAMP) (Switzerland), Kaloti Jewellery International (UAE), Emirates Gold (UAE), Kundan (India), and Rand Refinery (South Africa).
“Several of these companies had varying weaknesses in their due diligence procedures, such as a lack of systematic child labor monitoring or a lack of transparency,” the report says.
The report found not once but many instances of children getting injured in mine collapses. At least one has died. Many are suffering from pain and respiratory problems. Exposure to mercury poisoning also risks brain damage and other life-long disabilities.