Where is gold produced with forced labor?


Gold, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (2010), is one of the goods most widely produced with forced or child labor. The Department of Labor notes that forced labor in gold production is found in Burkina Faso, North Korea, Nigeria, and Peru and child labor is found in Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Colombia, DRC, Ecuador, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Mali, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Niger, Peru, the Philippines, Senegal, and Tanzania. However, other sources indicate that forced labor in gold is more widespread, notably in Ghana and across Latin America.

How is gold produced?


Responsible Jewelry Council. Gold and the Jewelry Supply

Chain Production: Gold is mined either though hard-rock or alluvial mining. Forced labor is most likely to occur in artisan and small-scale mining, most frequently in informal and/or illegal mining which takes place around major mining sites or sites which are near depletion.

After gold is mined, it needs to be separated from the surrounding ore. In artisan and small-scale mining, this dangerous process takes place in or around miners’ homes. In larger mining operations, this process will be carried out mechanically. Gold is then separated from the chemical solution, melted and poured into bars.

According to the “No Dirty Gold” Campaign “half of the world's gold is produced on indigenous peoples' lands.” Additionally, it is estimated that 30 percent of miners are women and children: women in particular are likely to be involved in gold processing, subjecting them to the dangers of mercury exposure, which include birth defects and a range of neurological symptoms.

The Supply Chain: The largest sources of gold to the U.S. are Canada, at 30 percent, Peru, at 29 percent, Mexico, at 16 percent, and Chile, at 9 percent (USGS 2010). Globally, the largest producers are China, Australia, the U.S, South Africa, and Peru (USGS 2010). The price of gold reached an all-time high in 2010, leading to an increase in global production.

After gold is mined and processed, it may be mixed with stronger metals to create an alloy. It is then sold to manufacturers and retailers, which produce jewelry and other goods. Because of the use of scrap gold and the mixing of gold from multiple sources, it is currently very difficult to track the origin of the gold in specific products.

Gold and the Environment

In addition to being linked with forced labor, gold production is highly destructive environmentally. Cyanide or mercury is used to separate gold from the surrounding ore and smelting produces 13 percent of all sulfur dioxide annually (No Dirty Gold). The chemicals used in gold production pollute water and surrounding land and affect human health. For example, in the Amazon, 77 sq. miles of forest has been lost to gold mining, and some 40 tons of mercury has been dumped (Collyns 2010). The United Nations is currently drafting a convention on the use of mercury.


Case Study

Gold Production in Burkina Faso

The International Labor Organization (2006) estimates that the Sahel region of Burkina Faso and Niger accounts for a quarter of all child labor in mining. An unknown percentage of these children may willingly migrate to the gold fields but are trafficked by the intermediaries who bring them there or receive no compensation once at the mines. Other children work alongside their families--the ILO indicates that 70 percent of all children working in the area are less than 15 years old.

While Burkina Faso is not among the world’s largest producers of gold nor a significant source of U.S. imports, gold is increasing in importance for the national economy, with the opening of four new gold mines and a 239 percent increase in exports between 2007 and 2008. Burkina Faso's major markets are Singapore, Belgium, China, Thailand, Ghana, and Niger (USDOS 2010).

How does forced labor in gold affect me?

Jewelry accounts for the majority of all gold use. Due to its high conductivity, gold is also used in electronics such as cell phones and laptops. Small amounts of gold are also used in dentistry, medicine, and for gold leaf.

GoldMiner GoldCellphone GoldPit GoldRings

What does forced labor in gold production look like?

Forced labor in gold is found either as a result of debt bondage within artisan and small-scale mining (ASM) communities, or, less frequently, as a result of trafficking in persons. In the case of debt bondage, middlemen sell artisan and small-scale miners supplies at inflated prices which miners are unable to pay back. This form of forced labor is most common in Latin America. In the case of trafficking, which occurs in Burkina Faso and Niger, children from local

communities and neighboring countries are trafficked into informal gold mining. Forced labor in North Korea results from forced work by the national government and is used as a punishment (Hawk 2003). Due to the closed nature of North Korean society, the extent of this practice is unknown.

What are governments, corporations and others doing to address forced labor in gold production?

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is undertaking a high-level initiative to develop a due diligence policy for coltan, tungsten, tin and gold mining in conflict and high-risk scenarios, particularly the DRC. Forced Labor is one indicator in the "intolerable abuses" of this due diligence guide (OECD 2010).

A number of organizations address social and environmental standards in gold mining. These include the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC), a membership organization which aims to improve conditions in gold and diamond supply chains. In 2009 the RJC initiated a certification program for all members of the gold and diamond supply chain requiring obligatory third party auditing. No Dirty Gold, a campaign from the NGO Earthworks, seeks to promote environmental and social standards in gold mining. As of March 2011, more than 70 companies had signed on to the No Dirty Gold’s “12 Golden Rules” for sourcing, including 8 out of 10 of the top jewelry retailers, with Target the most recent addition. The Madison Dialogue is another industry-focused organization which does not offer a certification program but which seeks to build engagement in the gold and diamond supply chains.

In March 2010 the Fairtrade Labeling Organization and the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) launched a fair trade certification for gold. The certification was piloted in Latin America and will expand to Africa and Asia after 2011. At the moment this represents a fractional scale of the international gold market: FLO indicated that its 15-year plan is to gain 5 percent of the total market share (FLO 2010).

How can I learn more?

Watch a video by Human Rights Watch on gold mining in New Guinea.
Listen to a broadcast about the Fairtrade gold launch.
Read an article by National Geographic on gold around the world.
Learn more about the environmental effects of gold at “No Dirty Gold”

Works Cited:

Collyns, Dan. “Peru’s gold rush sparks fear of ecological disaster.” BBC. December 20, 2009.

Fairtrade Foundation. Fairtrade and fairmined gold standards launched. March 17, 2010.

Human Rights Watch.  Gold’s Costly Dividend.2010.

International Labour Organization. Child labour in gold mining: The problem. June 2006.

Larmer, Brook. “The Real Price of Gold” National Geographic.  January 2009.

NoDirtyGold. “Where Gold is Mined”.

Novak, Fabian and Sanra Namihas. “La trata de personas con fines e explotacion laboral: el caso e la mineria aurifera and la tala illegal e madera en Mare e Dios.” Organización Internacional para las Migraciones. 2009. 

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Draft Due Diligence Guidelines for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas. 2010. 

Responsible Jewelry Council.  Gold and the Jewelry Supply Chain.  May 18, 2010.

Swedish Presidency of the European Union. “New Mercury convention to be negotiated in Sweden in 2010.”  October 23, 2009.

United States Department of Labor. 2010 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. December 2010. 

United States Department of State. Background Note: Burkina Faso. September 8, 2010.  

United States Geographical Survey. Gold.  2010