Supply Chain Characteristics that Impact Traceability

Traceability Takeaways

  • Both forced labor and child labor are present in the gold supply chain, specifically at the mining node. There is a documented presence of vulnerable migrant workers and third-party labor recruiters in gold mining across many geographies. Understanding the geographic footprint of mining operations is an important foundation for further risk and impact assessments.
  • The gold supply chain features multiple points of aggregation and transformation. Small but valuable amounts of gold are often smuggled or laundered, which can contribute to a lack of transparency into the origins of gold.1Gold. Responsible Business Alliance,
  • Smelters who melt and combine gold from multiple geographies, large and small mines, scrap metal, and recycled metal, are critical traceability points in gold supply chains. Traceability systems should enable downstream actors to identify and engage with the smelters in their supply chains, as smelters have been identified as the key “chokepoint” in responsible gold (and other mineral) supply chains by initiatives such as the Responsible Mining Initiative.
  • About 20 percent of gold comes from artisanal or small-scale mines (ASM). ASM mines are associated with hazardous working conditions, the use of casual labor, and informal trading practices. Traceability efforts in gold supply chains should be accessible for small producers who may lack technological and administrative capacity. Traceability efforts should account for illegally-mined gold coming from large mines, as well; illegal gold mining is associated with a high risk of forced and child labor because it is often controlled by criminal groups that operate outside of the law. It is also associated with the use of banned hazardous chemicals, such as mercury and arsenic.2Organized Crime and Illegally Mined Gold in Latin America. The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, April 2016,

Nature of Labor Rights Risk/Vulnerable Workers

Forced Labor or Trafficking in Persons cited by U.S. Government

Child Labor cited by U.S. Government

Risk of Forced Labor or Trafficking in Persons cited by other source

Risk of Child Labor cited by other source

Documented presence of migrant workers

Documented presence of other vulnerable workers

Documented presence or significant likelihood of third-party labor recruiters

Features of Production and Supply Chain

Large numbers of dispersed, unorganized, or informal small producers or other worksites

Multiple points of aggregation, co-mingling, and/or transformation across supply chain

Complex/opaque supply chains and/or lack of vertical integration

High degree of flexibility in procurement practices of downstream entities

Distribution of Labor Risk in Various Production Areas

Scale or nature of risk is strongly associated with certain types of suppliers/entities

Scale or nature of risk is present across multiple tiers or nodes of supply chain (including in associated downstream or upstream goods)

Scale or nature of risk varies significantly based on geographic area of production

  • Gold mining can take place illegally and with the involvement of armed criminal organizations, heightening the risks of forced labor.
  • Labor risks have been identified in both the mining and transporting of gold, especially when these processes take place illegally.

Linked Upstream and Downstream Risks

Risk in Nodes in Gold Production

Gold is mined through hard-rock or alluvial mining, both of which are labor-intensive. Once mined, the gold is separated through gravity concentration or chemical processes (often involving the use of highly toxic chemicals, such as mercury and arsenic). Gold moves between a complicated network of consolidators, intermediaries, and exporters as it is transported from mines to refineries to be processed. Once gold reaches the refineries, it becomes even more difficult to identify its origin; gold from all over the world may be mixed and processed in a single refinery. Refineries then sell the processed gold to banks, jewelry companies, and electronic producers around the world.24The Nexus of Illegal Gold Mining and Human Trafficking in Global Supply Chains. Verité, 2016,

Gold mined from countries embroiled in conflict is more likely to have been smuggled at some point in the gold supply chain. Gold smuggling allows gold that has been mined from sites illegally controlled by armed groups to enter legitimate supply chains. It also encourages other illegal gold mining activities and decreases government revenue.25Shoko, Janet. “Zimbabwe losing millions to gold smuggling.” The Africa Report, 2014,


Associated Downstream Goods and Consumer Sectors


Gold is commonly used in electronics and computer manufacturing.

Textiles Apparel and Luxury Goods

Gold is widely used to produce jewelry and other luxury items.

Top Global Countries

  1. Switzerland26List of exporters for the selected product in 2021. Product: 7108 Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought or not further worked than semi-manufactured or in powder form.
  2. United Kingdom
  3. United Arab Emirates
  4. China
  5. United States of America
  6. Australia
  7. Russia
  8. Canada
  9. Singapore
  10. Mali
  1. China27“Global mine production.” World Gold Council, 2021,
  2. Russia
  3. Australia
  4. Canada
  5. United States of America
  6. Ghana
  7. Peru
  8. Mexico
  9. Indonesia
  10. South Africa


Examples & Resources: Traceability Efforts Associated With Gold