Accepted paper:

Sustainable gold and dynamics of inclusion/exclusion in the global gold production system


Boris Verbrugge (University of Antwerp)

Paper short abstract:

This paper critically assesses ongoing efforts to make global gold supply chains more sustainable. It argues that as long as sustainability initiatives fail to recognize that ASGM revolves around the use of cheap informal labor, they risk leaving intact or even reinforcing exclusionary dynamics.

Paper long abstract:

In recent years, we have witnessed a proliferation of initiatives that attempt to make global gold supply chains more sustainable. Examples include voluntary standards such as Fairtrade gold or the LBMA's list of good delivery; but also full-blown regulatory initiatives like the EU's conflict minerals regulation. Most of these initiatives implicitly or explicitly target ASGM, which is considered notoriously unsustainable due to, amongst others, the presence of child labor, the involvement of armed rent-seekers, and the abundant use of mercury. This paper critically interrogates this sustainability drive against the background of structural trends in global gold production. It argues that the dramatic expansion of ASGM since the 1980s, its adverse incorporation into global supply chains, and the emergence of unequal revenue-sharing arrangements on the ground, are all products of the (partial and geographically unequal) informalization of gold production. More precisely, by mobilizing a cheap and flexible informal workforce to extract easily accessible gold deposits, ASGM-expansion provides a response to several systemic challenges facing global gold production, such as declining ore reserves, rising cost pressures, and tightening regulatory frameworks. While sustainability initiatives may well result in cosmetic changes to global gold supply chains, as long as they fail to recognize these structural forces, they risk leaving intact or even reinforcing exclusionary dynamics on the ground.

panel C07
Questioning the (un)sustainability of Artisanal and Small-scale Mining