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Venezuelan Tainted Gold

Illegal Mining, Horrific Abuses, Environmental Impact

Men look for diamonds and gold in a recently dug mine at the edge of the Canaima National Park in Parai-Tepui, Venezuela, May 14, 2019. © 2019 Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

On May 2, Human Rights Watch will join experts on illegal gold mining in Venezuela for a virtual discussion on the grave human and environmental rights impact that illegal mining has in the country.

At the event, open to the public, people will discuss how companies should enhance human rights and environmental due diligence in their supply chains for gold, including by mapping these supply chains down to the mine of origin and making the results public.

Venezuela has reserves of highly valued resources, including gold. Most gold mining in Venezuela’s southern states is illegal, and much of the gold is smuggled out of Venezuela and laundered into the national gold of “transit countries,” like Colombia, Guyana, and Brazil, before being sold to companies in the US, Canada, the EU, and other countries.

In 2020, Human Rights Watch documented how residents of Venezuela’s Bolívar state suffered horrific abuses at the hands of armed groups, including gangs called “syndicates” and armed groups from Colombia that control illegal gold mines. These groups seem to operate largely with government acquiescence or involvement to maintain social control. Abuses that continue to take place include amputations, shootings, and killings. The armed groups operate and commit abuses elsewhere on the Venezuela-Colombia border as well.

Mining in southern states has led to deforestation and polluted waters. People use mercury in artisanal mining, leading to an increase in mercury poisoning. Miners, some as young as 10 years old, endure harsh working conditions, including working 12-hour shifts without protective gear. Mining has impacted Indigenous communities, including by forcing displacement.

A report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) determined that illegal gold trafficking funds armed conflict and is used by criminal networks to launder money into global markets. Companies sourcing gold must be careful to avoid complicity in these activities.

Countries should put in place safeguards to prevent Venezuelan gold that is linked to human rights abuses and environmental harm from entering their territory. Companies have a responsibility to ensure they are not contributing to abuses.

The event will take place during the 15th Forum on Responsible Mineral Supply Chains, hosted by the OECD. There, experts will review and discuss the implementation of the OECD’s due diligence guidelines for responsible supply chains around minerals mined in conflict areas. It’s a key conversation to address how to stop Venezuelan gold that is tainted with blood from crossing borders.

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