Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo—Gold supply chain

November 10, 2015

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) analyzes mineral and metal supply chains to identify and describe major components of material flows from ore extraction, through intermediate forms, to a final product. Supply chain analyses may be used to identify risks to the United States associated with the supply of critical and strategic minerals and metals and to provide greater supply chain transparency so that policymakers have the fact-based information needed to formulate public policy. This fact sheet focuses on the gold supply chain.

The USGS National Minerals Information Center (NMIC) has been asked by governmental and non-governmental organizations to provide information about tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold (collectively known as “3TG minerals” ) processing facilities worldwide in response to U.S. legislation aimed at identifying and removing the supply chain links associated with the trade of these metals and minerals among armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and adjacent countries. Post-beneficiation processing plants (generally called smelters and refineries) for tantalum, tin, and tungsten (3T) mineral ores and concentrates were identified by company and industry association representatives as being the link in the 3T mineral supply chain through which these minerals can be traced to their source of origin (mine). Tungsten processing plants were the subject of the first fact sheet in a series of USGS reports about 3TG minerals, which was published by the NMIC in August 2014 (Bermúdez-Lugo, 2014). Background information about historical conditions and the voluntary due diligence of multinational stakeholders for minerals from conflict-affected and high-risk areas is presented in the tungsten fact sheet. The current fact sheet, the fourth and last in the series about 3TG minerals, focuses on the gold supply chain.

Processing of the 3T mineral concentrates requires substantial infrastructure and capital and generally is done at relatively few specialized facilities that are not located at the mine site; primary and secondary processors typically are at separate locations. Gold, however, can easily be processed into semi-refined products at or near the mine site and has a high unit value in any form, which allows it to be readily exported through undocumented channels, making it more difficult to track to the mine or region of origin. To put this in perspective, 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of 83 percent pure gold (20 carat) would form a cube measuring 12 centimeters per side (about the size of a small tissue box) and, at a price of $1,200 per ounce, would be worth nearly $1 million. By contrast, the equivalent value of tungsten concentrates would weigh about 45 metric tons (t) (100,000 pounds). Once conflict sourced gold has been combined with gold from other mines and scrap at a refiner, there is no feasible way to distinguish the source of the gold. Thus, once the gold leaves the immediate area of production, it is nearly indistinguishable from gold products mined in other areas.

Publication Year 2015
Title Conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo—Gold supply chain
DOI 10.3133/fs20153075
Authors Micheal W. George
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Fact Sheet
Series Number 2015-3075
Index ID fs20153075
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Minerals Information Center