Interview of the month: Diana Culillas from Swiss Better Gold Association

Before we dig into more about Swiss Better Gold Association, could you provide us with an overview of the gold industry’s supply chain? 

Gold has been used since prehistoric times and was one of the first metals to be transformed by humans, mainly because it was found as nuggets or particles in the river and stream beds. Throughout history, gold has been treasured for its natural beauty and radiance. For centuries it has been a universal symbol of wealth and power. Today gold is known as a “safe haven” investment by the financial industry, and therefore continues to be a powerful magnet, attracting the attention of activists and financial specialists alike. 

Gold mining is a global industry with operations on every continent except Antarctica.  Gold is extracted from mines of widely varying types and scale, there are three main types: 

  1. Large-scale mining (LSM) is extremely capital-intensive, requiring high levels of mechanisation and expertise. The life cycle of a LSM gold mine is long. Before any gold can be extracted, significant exploration and development needs to take place. On average, it takes between 10-20 years before a mine is ready to produce material that can be refined.  
  2. Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is practiced in many forms and contexts and provides livelihoods for 80 % of the workforce employed globally in the extractive industry (20 million miners in gold alone). Producing nearly 20% of the world’s gold, these miners often do not have access to other viable alternatives for earning a living. ASM is often poorly supervised by local authorities, due to an absence of regulatory frameworks, a lack of enforcement capacity, or corruption. ASM mining often occurs in locations where there is no LSM presence.  
  3. Recycled gold represents an important part of the market, accounting for around 30% of total supply over the past 20 years. The gold-recycling industry has two distinct segments:  jewellery, which accounts for roughly 90 percent of recycled gold, and industrial recycling, which accounts for the rest. Gold is one of the most sought after of all recycled precious metals due to its value. Today, there is a growing volume of gold re-entering the market from recycling of electrical and electronic equipment (e-waste).  

Once extracted, the gold enters a long process of commercialisation, export, refining, and manufacturing before it reaches its final consumer. The illustration below features these different stages of the value chain:   


The Swiss Better Gold Association plays a pivotal role in fostering responsible supply chains. Why is it critical for Switzerland to ensure responsible gold sourcing, and what measures does this entail? Can gold be produced responsibly?  

Since its inception, the Swiss Better Gold Association defined its focus and objectives on supporting responsible ASM production and facilitating access of ASM miners to global markets.  

ASM is often associated with a range of social and environmental issues including conflict, child labour and mercury pollution.  Commonly practiced informally, miners’ labour rights are not respected, and their working conditions are rudimentary (to say the least).  

As an industry association, Swiss Better Gold brings together various businesses active in the gold sector, including refiners, jewellers, watchmakers, and financial institutions. Swiss Better Gold was created to tackle the issues faced by artisanal and small-scale mining producers and to provide a market solution to social and environmental issues associated with ASM.  

To reach our objectives, the association partners with the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) in implementing our Swiss Better Gold Initiative in gold-producing countries.  Our activities help mining communities to improve their technical, organisational, social, and environmental practices. The Swiss Better Gold Initiative is also engaged with the governments of these countries on the formalisation of the AGSM sector. 


Could you highlight the Swiss Better Gold Association’s main initiatives to address poor working and living conditions in artisanal and small-scale gold mining communities? 

Since its inception in 2013, the Swiss Better Gold Initiative has worked with nearly 130 mines in Peru, Colombia and Bolivia, impacting the lives of more than 60,000 miners directly.  

During this period, we were able to support dozens of ASM producers to establish direct supply chains and to achieve tangible social and environmental improvements. 

Our approach is based on building proximity and constant presence on the ground. We count on a multidisciplinary country team of 10 people in Peru and 10 more people in Colombia. These teams provide much-needed technical assistance to ASM producers including providing mining advisory, and social, environmental, or managerial support in improving daily practices.   

When producers reach full compliance with our criteria, they access the Swiss Better Gold impact premium, which further supports these ASM communities in implementing effective social and environmental programs.  

To date, the Swiss Better Gold has facilitated the export of 17 tons of responsible ASM gold and has reinvested about $6.6 million USD of impact premium in about 20 projects on-the-ground. 

Some concrete examples: 1. a mining cooperative in Peru eliminated 56 kg of mercury per year thanks to our technical assistance; 2. we provided market access to 1’300 artisanal gold panners, 51% of whom are women, by grouping them into a more scalable supply chain; and 3. we co-constructed a small school where 100% of children of an isolated community can access education. You can find more examples on our website and in our Impact Report. 


Continuous improvement is a core principle of Swiss Better Gold. Can you elaborate on the Swiss Better Gold Improvement Escalator and how artisanal and small-scale gold miners can demonstrate compliance? 

Our approach is focused on continuous improvement; we also call it an escalator approach. Our criteria are defined by our members (watchmakers, refiners, banks) and were first defined in 2016.  

The simple (and not so simple) question we asked our members was: what precisely should ASM producers be doing in order to make you feel comfortable in buying this gold?  

This is how we defined our step 1 (basic) and step 2 (full compliance) criteria (see illustration).  

In terms of the process, we have a team of local experts (metallurgists, legal advisers, social and environmental professionals), who assess the status of ASM producers, identify gaps between the current situation and where we would like to see these producers and, finally, propose a Continuous Improvement Plans to close each gap and reach full compliance with the criteria. 

We we say “basic” it means a legally recognised entity has been created (or at least is in the process of formalisation) and that there is a commitment (in writing) for continuous improvement within a given time frame (we usually give 24 months). If nothing happens in that given time, the mining operation is removed from the Swiss Better Gold program. 


How can investors enhance their due diligence practices when investing in gold, particularly concerning sustainability and ethical considerations? 

This is a very good and timely question. Last March, lawmakers in the European Parliament approved a series of rules aimed at protecting consumers from greenwashing, or misleading environmental claims by companies.  It requires companies to submit product marketing claims such as “biodegradable” or “less polluting” for verification before being allowed to use them. This means that businesses need to substantiate and verify their sustainability / green / ethical claims.  

Investors need to ensure the reliability of business’ claims with substantiated evidence collected through enhanced and continued due diligence (DD) exercises. When it comes to gold, the result of DD should ensure that it complies with sanctions, anti-money laundering and corruption laws, is not involved in child or forced labour, and does not cause environmental degradation. Undertaking these verifications is constant and quite intensive work, and this is why companies might choose to partner with specialist development organisations that undertake efforts to combat the above listed issues in supply chains.  

Members of the Swiss Better Gold Association benefit from our framework, knowledge, and expertise throughout the due diligence process and can benefit from the results of our field work with ASM producers. You can find more about our work and achievements in this field on our website.


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