Major Tech and Car Companies May Be Using ‘Blood Gold’ Mined Illegally From the Amazon Rainforest

Aerial view of an area in the Brazilian rainforest devastated by illegal gold mining
An area devastated by illegal gold mining in the Jamanxim National Forest, state of Para, in northern Brazil. ANTONIO SCORZA / AFP via Getty Images
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Your iPhone may contain gold linked to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest

A new report from Amazon Watch and the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB) published Monday reveals that the gold used by major tech and car companies including Apple, Tesla, Samsung, Microsoft, Intel, Sony, Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors could have been mined illegally from Indigenous lands in the Brazilian Amazon.

“We are witnessing the destruction of ecosystems and entire communities, and people are dying as a result of this deadly industry,” APIB Executive Coordinator Director Dinamam Tuxá said in an Amazon Watch press release. “[Mining’s] viability requires a consumer market that finances its destruction. This exposé provides groundbreaking findings that identify leading companies potentially complicit in illegal Amazon mining. We now call on these corporate giants to prove that they are not buying gold extracted from our lands.”

The report, titled Blood Gold, revealed that two refineries in the supply chains of major electronics and automotive companies are being investigated for using illegally mined gold. These refineries are Chimet in Italy and Marsam in Brazil. 

The connection between Chimet and illegal mining was first publicized by Reporter Brasil in July, according to Reuters. Documents obtained by the journalism outfit revealed that Brazilian federal police had accused the refinery of acquiring millions of dollars worth of gold from a trader known as CHM do Brasil that had, in turn, allegedly obtained it from illegal operations. The initial reporting revealed that tech giants Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple and Microsoft all had Chimet in their supply chain. The Chimet gold came from the Kayapó Indigenous Territory, according to the latest report.

The other refinery listed in the new report was Marsam in Brazil. This refinery has been accused of using gold illegally obtained by FD’Gold from the Munduruku and Yanomami territories.

Gold is commonly used in the wiring and circuit boards of electric products including computers, smartphones and electric vehicles. But when it is mined illegally from Indigenous lands, it can be the cause of a host of environmental harms and human rights violations. 

“We are currently experiencing a critical moment of terrible conflicts, with many land invaders inside our territory introduced by the miners,” Munduruku’s Pariri Association President Alessandra Korap Munduruku said in the press release. “Illegal mining contaminates rivers with mercury, and the mercury contaminates the fish and our bodies. Mining kills and displaces people from their land. It only knows how to destroy.” 

Munduruku and Tuxá were two of four panelists who announced the findings at an event as part of Climate Week NYC on Monday. Indigenous leaders have traveled to New York to urge major brands like the ones listed in the report to stop profiting from the destruction of the Amazon, according to The Guardian. 

“Sometimes I wonder why I go. I’m tired of saying the same thing and things moving so slowly,” Domingo Paes, a member of the Achuar people in the Ecuadorian Amazon, told The Guardian. “But I’ve met lots of people, in government and young activists, who say we must take action and that this is urgent. When I hear people saying this, it gives me hope, that things are changing.”

In Brazil, the Amazon and the Indigenous communities within it are especially under threat now because of the policies of right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who wants to make it legal to mine in Indigenous territories, according to the report. Illegal mining has already increased during his tenure, with the amount of illegal gold produced by the country rising 23 percent during his first two years in office, Brazilian sustainability think tank Instituto Escolhas told Reuters. 

“A company that is buying gold from Brazil already knows there is a huge risk it is buying irregular gold — Amazon blood gold,”  Larissa Rodrigues of Escolhas told Reuters.

The report noted that 47 percent of gold produced in Brazil between 2015 and 2020 was obtained illegally. 

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