EDITOR NOTE: Perth Mint, a refiner owned by the West Australian government, is suspected of purchasing “conflict gold” from suppliers in Papua New Guinea and the Congo. What is “conflict gold”? It’s gold mined in conflict-ridden countries, often using child labor, employing practices that (in a first-world context) are deemed unsafe and unethical, and funneling profits to violent groups involved in local armed conflict. In short, Perth Mint is suspected of dealing with and profiting from the yellow metal’s equivalent of “blood diamonds.” As Americans, how do we feel about this? Should the allegations be true, what’s your conscience saying to you?
Perth Mint, owned by the West Australian government, has bought hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of "conflict gold" from a convicted killer in Papua New Guinea, in breach of its ethical policy.
An investigation by the Australian Financial Review's national affairs correspondent Angus Grigg published on Thursday, has revealed the Perth refiner purchased the gold from small-scale miners in PNG, which have been long criticised for their use of child labour and mercury.
Conflict minerals like gold are usually mined via unsafe practices in conflict-ridden countries, such as PNG and the Congo, and are often used to fund violent armed groups, which use the riches to secure strategic trading routes.
Speaking to 6PR's Gareth Parker, Mr Grigg said the Mint had repeatedly ignored concerns raised by staff about the sourcing of its gold from PNG suppliers and whether this breached ethical guidelines.
At the heart of the allegations is PNG firm Golden Valley, which sells about $200 million of gold a year to the Mint, making it a major supplier, Grigg reported.
The company's owner Justin Parker was convicted of manslaughter in 2017 and ordered to serve 13 years in jail for beating his helicopter mechanic to death, but released on parole last year.
"That alone should have triggered red flags about the type of people the Perth Mint is dealing with, but it has not," Mr Grigg said. "The bigger issue here is around how Golden Valley sources its gold."
Mr Grigg said basic checks showed the company bought the metal from small-scale miners across PNG's highlands where children in places like Bouganville are employed to mine the metal.
In addition to its use of children, the company uses mercury to cut the gold, a practice that has been banned in Australia for its devastating effect on humans – exposure to the heavy metal is known to cause cognitive impairment and development issues in children.
"At the heart of it you have to come back to this idea that having put itself out there as the bastion of ethically-sourced gold globally, the Mint has really failed to live up to that in practice," he said.
"They have gone out very strongly touting this credentials and it appears that staff and those working in the Mint have raised a lot of concerns."
Perth Mint, chaired by former Rio Tinto chief executive Sam Walsh, is the largest refiner of newly mined gold in the world.
In February, it said it was at the "forefront of setting the highest possible ethical standards".
But while Mr Grigg said the government-owned refiner claimed to carry out a thorough audit and check of suppliers his own investigation suggested otherwise.
"The big issue is that the Mint has really got out in the front foot and said it's at the forefront of ethical sourcing policies, it says that it's making huge steps to stamp out conflict gold," he said.
"But even the most cursory checks of those who it buys gold from shows that this policy is paper-thin at best."
In a statement released to WAtoday, the Perth Mint said it abided by the highest standards and conducted yearly independent audits of all its customers' environmental, social and governance practices.
"The Perth Mint continues to invest in improving transparency and compliance at every level of the supply chain," the statement read.
"The organisation takes ESG very seriously and rejects any suggestion that it fails to fully comply with all regulatory requirements or the industry’s highest ethical standards.
"The Perth Mint also strongly rejects any suggestion that it deals in 'conflict gold'."
Originally posted on WAtoday