Swiss Better Gold update on Minera Yanaquihua, Peru
Eight months after the tragic accident in one of the galleries of the Yanaquihua mine in Arequipa that claimed the lives of 27 miners, the investigations into the circumstances that led to the accident in the intersection between the Esperanza I and II galleries in May 2023 are still ongoing. The Prosecutor has entrusted the preliminary investigations to the police, who have recently submitted their report which is not publicly available. According to usual legal procedures, the Prosecutor is to deliver his conclusions within 8 months after receiving the report, that is, in January 2024, with the possibility of requesting an extension of the deadline for an additional 8 months. Once the Prosecutor has published its conclusions based on the police report, the Swiss Better Gold Initiative will assess them and then issue a statement on the additional actions it will take (if any).
A few weeks after the accident, the Regional Director of Energy and Mines of the Regional Government (GREM) of Arequipa assigned the task of investigating the causes of the incident to its Inspection Department. The ensuing report was delivered in June 2023 and is publicly available. It is the result of a preliminary investigation at the scene. The report has been reviewed by the mining company which raised several observations. In October of the same year, the GREM notified Minera Yanaquihua that Esperanza II had addressed the observations included in its June report.
This tragedy underscores the inherent risks of gold extraction, the fragility of the local context and the importance of the industry support to improve the practices and working conditions of artisanal and small-scale gold mining and the formalization of this sector. The Yanaquihua accident has reinforced the collective resolve of all Swiss Better Gold stakeholders to support and help implement positive change in working practices and conditions of the mines.
It should be noted that at the beginning of 2023, the Peruvian authorities had reviewed and approved the safety management plan and contingency plan presented by Minera Yanaquihua in compliance with current regulations. Like dozens of other mines in Latin America affiliated with Swiss Better Gold, for several years Minera Yanaquihua has been following a process of continuous improvement monitored in the field by experts from the Initiative, who spent about 2’000 work hours providing technical support activities focused on the integration of ASM miners working on or near the Yanaquihua concession and improving the mine’s related Due Diligence practices. Minera Yanaquihua has in addition been certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council as fully compliant with their Code of Practices in March 2021, as well as in August 2014.
In October 2023, a multidisciplinary team of four specialists from the Swiss Better Gold Initiative conducted a new field assessment in Minera Yanaquihua. In close coordination with management and professionals of the mine, assisted by the Initiative’s technical team, the company’s continuous improvement plan and its implementation were thoroughly reviewed. Special emphasis was placed on occupational health and safety aspects. The resulting action items are reflected hereafter. Additionally, in the context of its own continuous improvement the Swiss Better Gold Initiative has reviewed its monitoring instruments and strengthened its own team of experts in occupational health and safety.
Since the accident, contact between the Initiative and the executives of Minera Yanaquihua company has deepened with a particular attention to the care of the families of the 27 victims. In addition to the mining company’s efforts to support the family members, a more extensive plan is being developed by Swiss Better Gold to support the future needs of these families.
Relations with the Regional Government of Arequipa which have existed for several years have also been strengthened. The Initiative collaborated, among other issues, with the Regional Department of Energy and Mines in the development of the COVID control and prevention plan and the review of the financial control mechanisms of artisanal and small-scale gold mining. The Regional Environmental Authority (ARMA) also received technical support on environmental and mining matters. One of the objectives of the Initiative is to implement, in constant contact with mining operators and authorities, practices that minimize as much as possible the risks of harm to the miners or the surrounding communities.
Minera Yanaquihua is one of 30 gold suppliers in the supply chains supported by the Swiss Better Gold Initiative. The Initiative has been active for 11 years and has facilitated the export to Switzerland of a total of 16 tons of gold produced following strict criteria. At the end of 2023, no fewer than 30 small and artisanal mines in Colombia and Peru were part of the public-private Initiative driven by the Swiss gold industry and the Swiss government. Considering miners and their families, the Initiative has benefited around 61,000 people in the mining areas of the Andean countries in the past year alone. Internationally, the Initiative is considered a pioneer in its field, implementing sound practices to sustain the responsible gold supply chains from producing countries to the Swiss market.
The certification of mines by the RJC is highly valued in the international market as a robust and reliable standard. It is the responsibility of the RJC to assess its practices in light of the events at Minera Yanaquihua. Immediately after the accident, the Swiss Better Gold Initiative has established a more intensive on-site presence to conduct its own checks as a double verification complementary to the RJC certification. Over the course of the current year, the mining company will seek recertification with the RJC, with all the necessary verifications expected to be completed in 2024.
Swiss Better Gold is a collective ESG-focused development initiative focusing on sustainability, traceability and inclusion. We believe in our continuous improvement approach and are convinced that a development initiative cannot be deemed to be sustainable based on exclusionary criteria. In these challenging circumstances, we will continue making all necessary efforts to support the Yanaquihua mine as we trust it is in the interest of miners, their families and of the ASGM community as whole.
Swiss Better Gold, January 11th, 2024
 “The RJC Code of Practices (COP) defines the responsible ethical, human rights, social and environmental practices that all certified RJC members must adhere to. This standard includes provisions covering the jewellery and watch supply chain from mine to retail.” Source RJC, 2019