Supply Chain Characteristics that Impact Traceability

Traceability Takeaways

  • Both forced labor and child labor have been documented in zinc supply chains, highlighting the need for traceability solutions that can support broader company due diligence strategies.  
  • Various vulnerable populations, including children and migrants, have been documented in zinc production. Understanding the nuance of risk for different worker demographics present necessitates full supply chain mapping to the mining level. Mapping efforts should take into account that zinc production is often associated with the mining of other minerals, such as copper and silver, that may have their own labor risks. Information from this discovery process should be used to help prioritize origin points for more in-depth risk assessments, including on-the-ground assessments. This will serve to uplift worker and community voices so that the unique risks experienced by different demographic groups can be integrated into efforts to address and prevent labor rights abuses.  
  • Zinc production occurs in both vertically integrated operations – where the refiner is present at the site of mineral mining – as well as in contexts where mining and smelting/refining are separate. In disperse supply chains, where mining and refining are not integrated operations, each node may be owned and operated by a different company and worksites may be located in different countries. These dispersed supply chains typically feature additional traders or other middlemen. Smelting and refining plants that are not integrated with specific mining operations typically source zinc from many upstream mines, traders, and aggregators or other processors, often based in different countries.1 Joint Due Diligence Standard Copper, Lead, Molybdenum, for Nickel and Zinc. The Copper Mark, 2021.   Traceability systems in zinc supply chain should be designed based on an accurate understanding of the degree of vertical integration present.  
  • The presence of informal artisanal and small-scale mines poses the highest risk for child labor and exacerbates traceability challenges in zinc supply chains. After conducting supply chain mapping and discovery, companies should identify origins where artisanal mining is prevalent to better understand the root causes of child labor risk. This will help inform potential remediation strategies.  
  • Traceability systems should be feasible in the context of artisanal mines, when relevant. Many of these smaller mining operations may have less administrative capacity and a lower capacity to engage in higher-input traceability efforts without pre-engagement, such as significant training and on-boarding efforts. Traceability efforts should be developed with an understanding of the capacity of relevant suppliers in mind – particularly smaller-scale mining sites. 
  • Like other minerals, zinc goes through multiple points of transformation and aggregation. Traceability approaches in the sector should account for these points of aggregation, such as via the use of mid-tier gatekeeper due diligence at key control points such as smelters.   

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 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

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

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 varies significantly based on geographic area of production

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

Linked Upstream and Downstream Risks

Risk in Nodes in Zinc Production

Zinc ore is mined at underground mines and open pit mines.16Genderen, Eric V., et al. “A global life cycle assessment for primary zinc production.” The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 2016,   The raw ores are then moved to processing plants17Tao, Ming, et al. “Life cycle assessment on lead–zinc ore mining and beneficiation in China.” Journal of Cleaner Production, 2019, for beneficiation and smelting. This produces refined zinc,18Genderen, Eric V., et al. “A global life cycle assessment for primary zinc production.” The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 2016, which is transported and sold to customers.19Gorner, Stephan, et al. “The mine-to-market value chain: A hidden gem.” McKinsey & Company, 2020, Traders are involved at different stages, from the purchasing of zinc ores after mining to the selling of processed zinc to customers.20“Zinc Trading.” Imperium Commodity,if%20they%20have%20production%20facilities Given that the primary use of zinc is in the galvanizing process to protect steel and iron in construction materials and automotive and consumer goods,21Genderen, Eric V., et al. “A global life cycle assessment for primary zinc production.” The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 2016, it is commonly sold to industrial customers, such as metal manufacturers.  


Beneficiation and smelting

Inventory and transport

Retail and manufacturing

Associated Downstream Goods and Consumer Sectors


Zinc is primarily used in galvanization to protect iron and steel products and components in the construction, and automotive sectors.

Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals

Zinc is also a key ingredient in zinc tablet supplements and other pharmaceutical products.

Energy and Electrical

Zinc is allowed with other minerals such as lead and tin to made solder, which is used to join electrical pieces.

Top Global Countries

  1. Australia22 List of exporters for the selected product in 2021 Product : 2608 Zinc ores and concentrates. ITC Trade Map, . 
  2. Peru 
  3. United States of America 
  4. Bolivia 
  5. Belgium 
  6. Sweden 
  7. Turkey 
  8. South Africa 
  9. Chile 
  10. Portugal 

Examples & Resources: Traceability Efforts Associated With Tin