ZURICH/LONDON, June 11 (Reuters) - Metalor, one of the world’s biggest gold refiners, is to start processing a small amount of traceable and responsibly sourced gold from small-scale miners in Peru as part of a scheme to improve their conditions.
The initiative by Metalor is one of a growing number by refiners and non-profit organisations to help small-scale gold miners to sell their output legally and at fair prices in the mainstream market.
Around 15-20 million people dig for gold using basic technology, mainly in Africa and South America.
They produce about 560 tonnes a year worth $30 billion at current prices, but the processes they use are often polluting and they can also be mixed up with organised crime.
Metalor said last year it would only work with gold from large industrial mines to reduce the risk of illegality in its supply chain.
The company stopped working with artisanal mines or collectors and aggregators - companies which collect and resell gold from artisanal mines - because of the difficulty of ascertaining the mines’ legality and the origin of the gold.
Metalor will now process gold from Peru’s Minera Yanaquihua mining group, the companies said in a joint statement on Thursday.
The scheme is supported by the Swiss Better Gold Association and the Better Gold Imitative for Artisanal and Small-scale Mining, non-profit groups which support artisanal miners.
Yanaquihua produces 45,000 ounces — 1.4 tonnes — of gold a year worth $75 million at current prices, the joint statement said.
Around 70% of that comes from two small mining units run by Yanaquihua in southern Peru. The remainder is from artisanal miners in the surrounding area, who will be helped to improve their operations.
Another Swiss refinery, Valcambi, said last year it had begun processing artisanal gold from Colombia in partnership with the Swiss Better Gold Association and others.
Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Peter Hobson. Editing by Jane Merriman