Initial insights into the formal and informal global mercury trade

13 November 2019

The Minamata convention is regulating the formal trade and use of mercury. But little information is available on the formal and especially informal pathways of mercury and how these drive the artisanal gold economies. IUCN NL is currently looking into informal mercury flows, trade hubs and key players in Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Guyana, Kenya, Philippines, Suriname, Tanzania and Uganda. Initial results will be presented in Geneva on November 29.   

Mercury use is common practice in the artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) sector, while little to no precaution measures are taken to protect human health and the environment from this highly toxic substance.

Informal trade routes remain elusive

More than 1,400 tons of mercury is released to the environment every year. The Minamata convention is regulating the formal trade and use of mercury. But little information is available on the formal and especially informal pathways of mercury and how these drive the artisanal gold economies. From its original source to the gold mining sites at the other end of the world, trade routes of informally traded mercury remain largely elusive to this day.

Unveiling informal mercury flows, trade hubs and key players

An insight into the supply routes and value chain of the mercury market is needed to support the reduction of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

  • Where does mercury originate from?
  • How is it transported and by whom?
  • Through which formal and informal channels?
  • Who benefits most from the mercury trade?
  • Which systems are constraining mercury free artisanal gold?

To answer these questions, IUCN NL and local partner organisations are looking into the political ecology of the links between gold and mercury to identify illicit mercury flows, trade hubs and key players in Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Guyana, Kenya, Philippines, Suriname, Tanzania and Uganda.

Strenghtening the Minamata convention

The aim of the research is to strengthen the Minamata convention with information that is not available through official channels and presents an addition to the knowledge collected in UNEP’s global mercury assessment. “By informing national governments with the insight gained into the illicit mercury trade, we hope to support National Action Plans to enhance the governance of mercury in the ASGM sector. Furthermore, we aim to raise awareness in the global community about the influence and impact of the illicit mercury trade on ASGM,” says Barbara Hendus, Expert Extractives and Conservation at IUCN NL.

Initial results presented on November 29

After an intensive investigation phase by local teams existing of partner NGOs coached by globally recognized expert consultants, initial results of the study were presented during a side-event of the third meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP3), which takes place in Geneva from 25 to 29 November.

Practical information on the side-event

Report available early 2020

The global report on mercury governance will be released early 2020 on iucn.nl/mercury.  

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More articles by: Mark van der Wal