International researchers and human rights activists have established a joint investigation into the role western mining companies play in funding violence in Africa’s gold trade.  

The Blood Gold Report research programme will explore deals between western mining companies, authoritarian African governments and Russian mercenaries including the paramilitary organisation, the Wagner Group. 

The research will initially focus on Mali, a resource-rich nation where the ruling junta is currently propped up by Russian mercenaries.  

“Mali stands out for a number of reasons,” David Clement, researcher for 21 Democracy and the Blood Gold Report, told Mining Technology. “It has turned away from democracy, and its military government is supported by the Wagner Group. They have driven out the UN peacekeeping mission, and they have been found to have committed atrocities – and still a number of major western mining companies continue to operate there.”  

Following the Wagner Group’s attempted rebellion against the Russian Kremlin this June, the extent of its involvement in Africa’s metal trade has been under scrutiny. 

“Our concern is that gold is fuelling violence in Africa and Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. Society’s expectations of companies have shifted since Russia’s invasion started, and this industry should be no different,” Clement went on.  

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The Blood Gold Report, established last week, is calling for submissions from any interested parties including industry, civil society, politicians and academics. According to Clement, “the fundamental question for industry is this: ‘How can you give confidence to investors and consumers that they are not buying ‘Blood Gold’?” 

Mali’s gold mining industry is home to extensive human rights violations. According to the International Federation of Human Rights, mining companies active in Mali are “eschewing legal obligations and social responsibilities” when it comes to preserving the rights of Malian workers. 

Accountability for mining companies 

“Ultimately the goal of the research is accountability. If companies choose to partner with military dictatorships, human rights violators, the Wagner group, then investors and the public deserve to know,” Clement told Mining Technology.  

“And with that accountability, will hopefully come better decision-making that ensures the gold industry is not implicated – directly or indirectly – with war crimes in Africa and funding Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.”  

The Wagner Group has been sanctioned by a number of international governments including the EU, US and the UK. Wagner-linked officials in Mali, Sudan and the Central African Republic have also been subject to sanctions

“The Wagner Group is committing atrocities in Ukraine, as well as acting with impunity in countries like Mali, Central African Republic and Sudan,” said UK Minister for Development and Africa Andrew Mitchell in a statement sanctioning the Wagner Group in July. “Wherever Wagner operates, it has a catastrophic effect on communities, worsens existing conflicts and damages the reputations of countries that host them.”