Sustainability and Responsible Sourcing Report 2023
Chapter 10: The Changing Landscape: Addressing New Sourcing Challenges
A given assumption of a credible responsible sourcing system is that change is a constant variable.
While certain sourcing threats or conflict-affected and high-risk areas (CAHRAs) will remain everpresent – ASM gold funding militia groups in Eastern Congo, for example – new vulnerabilities can emerge at any time.
Established suppliers or seemingly low-risk countries can suddenly require enhanced due diligence measures or remediation plans as new threats or information emerges or geopolitical dynamics shift. Over the last year, LBMA and GDL Refiners have responded to a range of new sourcing challenges. While some of these can be criminal in nature and come to light through investigative reporting or enforcement action by authorities, others come to the fore thanks to changing public norms and expectations of responsibly sourced supply chains.
Others still can emerge due to legislative or regulatory changes in key trading or consumer markets.
With the growth of the Responsible Sourcing team, LBMA uses these vulnerabilities not only to enforce our sourcing standards, but as teachable moments for both Refiners and Approved Service Providers (ASPs), both outside and in the lead-up to the annual assurance period.
Cases like those highlighted here are also incorporated into LBMA’s annual training for ASPs to grow their awareness of nascent threats and when to apply greater scrutiny to Refiners with potentially exposed supply chains.
Illegally-mined gold represents the second most profitable environmental crime after logging. Brazilian authorities estimate that up to 30% of exports could be improperly sourced from wildcat miners illegally operating in protected environmental and cultural areas in the Amazon.
One contributing factor behind this phenomenon is Law 12844 (2013), commonly known as the ‘Good Faith Law’, which allows gold miners and traders to provide written self-declarations of origin and conformance with legal requirements at the time they sell their production to Brazilian financial entities known as DTVMs.
There is currently no way to reconcile these self-declarations against electronic mining licences or the cadastre. Compounding matters is Brazil’s shared border with Suriname and Venezuela, both of which have sizeable illicit gold markets and weak government oversight. The OECD and NGOs have raised credible concerns about inflows of material from these two countries into Brazil – a sourcing burden made more complex due to multiple international economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela due to governance and human rights concerns.
Following the 2023 change in political administration, the new government adopted a dual-track approach to aggressively remove miners from illegal mine sites in the Amazon and overhaul sections of the law that currently thwart traceability and due diligence expected of the gold supply chain.
When this issue came to LBMA’s attention, the Responsible Sourcing team engaged all GDL Refiners with Brazilian material in their Country of Origin reports to inform them of these sourcing vulnerabilities and advise them to apply enhanced due diligence on their supply chains.
The issue was further highlighted in the monthly Responsible Sourcing Newsletter to reinforce awareness among Refiners and Approved Service Providers (ASPs). In one instance, a GDL Refiner had to sever a long-standing relationship with a Brazilian supplier, after the latter was charged by authorities with misrepresenting the origin of some of its production (see Case Studies in the 2022 Sustainability and Responsible Sourcing Report). In monitoring this issue, LBMA liaised directly with Brazilian NGOs and enforcement authorities to better understand their efforts to close this loophole and improve traceability requirements. The Brazilian National Police have also incorporated the Geoforensic Passport, a scientific tool developed by Metalor, a Swiss GDL Refiner, to validate the origin of doré exports against a complex signature profile of each mined gold supplier (see Innovation section below).
Prior to the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia accounted for approximately 10% of the global total of mined production annually and had six GDL Refiners.
Since the war began, G7 countries have issued multiple rounds of economic sanctions against Russian entities, including several large mining companies. While none of the sanctions targeted GDL Refiners inside Russia, LBMA nevertheless took the step in March 2022 of suspending all Russian Refiners on the GDL in the interests of market stability.
Complying with all relevant economic and trade sanctions is an obligation for all LBMA Members and Refiners, and any breach of such measures can have significant commercial impacts, including removal from the GDL.
In addition to the Ukraine War, Refiners have also had to consider the operations of the Kremlinbacked Wagner Group, a mercenary group active in several gold-rich African countries including Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan. Several Western governments designated Wagner a terrorist organisation in 2022 and added it to their sanctions regimes. Wagner is believed to profit by as much as $1 billion annually from its role in African conflicts – funnelling the revenues into its operations in Ukraine.
While it is the responsibility of each Refiner – especially those with historical relationships with the Russian precious metals market – to assess their potential legal jeopardy and undertake enhanced due diligence of their supply chains, LBMA has supported GDL Refiners by:
- Informing them of each new gold and silver sanctions announcement;
- Establishing a watchlist to monitor for any adverse news or trade anomalies that could signify a breach of sanctions;
- Speaking with Assurance Providers that work with Russian-linked entities in advance of their audits to ensure close attention is given to
scrutinising sanctions compliance.
During the 2023 assurance assessment, LBMA staff sought full comfort that no Refiner took receipt of or processed Russian material after 7 March 2022, when economic measures were first announced.
Throughout the conflict, LBMA has maintained an open dialogue with several governments with a view to understanding and complying with the everexpanding economic measures and listed entities. The threat of Wagner material entering the legal supply chain and the iterative economic measures against Russian entities are communicated to Refiners by email and through the monthly Responsible Sourcing Newsletter.
Concerns from downstream partners in key consumer markets regarding the potential use of forced labour in certain areas of China led LBMA to introduce additional assurance requirements on GDL Refiners operating in that country. As part of their 2022 Assurance Reports, Refiners were required to provide an independently audited statement verifying the absence of forced labour in their supply chain and physical operations. Refiners were obligated to publish these statements on their websites.
While the issue of forced labour has always been covered in the RGG and is considered a zero-tolerance risk under Annex II of the OECD Guidance, LBMA took this additional step to provide the necessary comfort to the market and avert potential impacts to existing commercial relationships.
Amplified concerns about forced labour have also led the European Commission to introduce draft legislation to ban all products made by forced labour from EU markets. LBMA continues to monitor legislative developments that could potentially impact the market.