Every year, Switzerland imports thousands of tonnes of mined gold. What should be gold imported from Togo, actually comes from the artisanal mines in Burkina Faso, where it is extracted under dreadful conditions by a labour forced composed of between 30% and 50% by children. Underground work counts as a “worst form of child labour” and is strictly forbidden for minors according to the ILO and the Burkinabé law.
The prospect of earning a weekly wage and the lack of hope of a career outside of the artisanal sector, draw many to the mines at a young age. Children here carry out the same tasks as adults, crushing chunks of gold-bearing ore by hand and separating the gold-bearing material from the silt. Excessive mercury and dust exposure seriously harm their digestive and immune systems and are cause of respiratory and pulmonary diseases.
Women, often accompanied by their children, and girls are forbidden from descending the shafts, but occupy other functions on the site, such as panning for gold.
Supported by nothing but a rope cord, the miners descend into the unstable and poorly ventilated shafts, up to 170m deep. They are often drugged to suppress fear and hunger during their long shifts in the claustrophobic shafts. Mining continues into the wet season despite the high risk of shaft collapse.
As miners seldom leave the site, they rely on a number of independent traders to ensure competitive prices.
A short video of the story, ‘Un filon en or – La véritable histoire de l’or «togolais» raffiné en Suisse‘ was realized by Pep Bonet for Berne Declaration.