Breaking Ground: Global Workshop Unites Nations to Tackle Gold Traceability and Sustainability Challenges

Dr Barbara Beck

By Dr Barbara Beck
Lecturer & Senior Researcher, University of Lausanne

The prestigious Palais de Rumine, Switzerland, recently welcomed industry leaders and experts from around the world who gathered to tackle the pressing issue of gold traceability. The workshop, organised by the University of Lausanne, attracted representatives from diverse backgrounds and countries, including Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Congo, Germany, England, France, Sweden and Switzerland.

With a comprehensive focus on traceability and anti-counterfeiting tools, the workshop saw participation from various stakeholders, ranging from designers of cutting-edge traceability technologies to refineries, investment firms, jewellery manufacturers, mines, traders, NGOs and academics.

Throughout the engaging sessions, attendees explored a wide array of topics, delving into innovative anti-counterfeiting tools based on blockchain, physical or optical markings, chemical composition, and geographic information system (GIS) techniques. As approaches were shared, speakers stressed the urgency of traceability and the importance of harmonising standards across the industry.

One of the highlights of the workshop were the heated discussions surrounding the need and objectives of gold traceability. While some groups emphasised its role in upholding integrity, accountability and combatting illegal gold markets, others debated the transparency aspect and the extent to which information should be made public.

The scope of traceability emerged as a significant talking point, with unanimity on the necessity of covering the entire supply chain, including Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) operations. However, concerns were raised about the effectiveness of current traceability tools and whether incentives for formalisation should be institutional rather than consumer driven.

Workshop attendees with Dr Barbara Beck in the centre. Palais de Rumine, Lausanne, Switzerland

Different Perspectives: One Common Goal

In the quest for increased gold traceability across the supply chain, stakeholders from diverse backgrounds and interests converged to explore a common goal.

For NGOs, traceability stands as the bedrock of product integrity, while investors link it to accountability, transparency and risk management. Refiners, recognising their pivotal position in the gold value chain, advocate for collaboration with all stakeholders, from administrations to NGOs, to achieve comprehensive traceability. Importing countries view traceability as a tool to verify due diligence in production, while producer countries leverage it to combat illegal gold markets and to adhere to environmental and social standards.

The issue of transparency sparked lively debates among interest groups, with some highlighting audits as essential to ensure social and environmental production conditions. Academics and refiners championed third-party audits with common standards for credibility, yet the confidentiality of audit reports raises concerns. Meanwhile, communication took centre stage, with tensions arising over what information should be accessible to different stakeholders. Civil society demands awareness, while refiners guard certain data for competitive reasons.

Extending traceability throughout the entire value chain, including mined and recycled gold, found widespread agreement, with a focus on the pre-production phases for mined gold. In this context, the GeoForensic Passport emerged as a game-changing technological marvel, allowing Metalor Technologies to confirm the origin of doré bars, leaving no room for declaratory fraud.

Financing traceability efforts proved a point of divergence, with a call for differentiated support for ASM. Proposals ranged from state support to contributions from governments, investors and refiners, who view traceability as an added value for brands and consumers.

Governance took centre stage as participants explored the form and binding nature of regulations. While unanimity exists for improved standards, a contrasting view emerges on mandatory versus voluntary measures. Refiners advocated for traceability requirements, while others argued for step-by-step implementation, seeking a consensus-driven certification scheme.

As the workshop came to a close, calls for a risk-based approach to traceability evaluation resonated among participants. They highlighted the importance of remote control tools to ensure efficiency and explored the complexities of implementing and regulating traceability across the industry.

The resounding message from the workshop was a collective commitment to ensure transparency and traceability in the gold industry. With Switzerland’s prominent role in the global gold trade, the nation emerges as a key player in shaping a sustainable future for the precious metals sector.


GeoForensic Passports

In issue 109 of the Alchemist, we published an update to the work by the University of Lausanne on the GeoForensic Passport.

In 2016, Metalor Technologies and the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) began a scientific collaboration to determine the origin of mined gold. This led to the creation of a new approach to validating the origin of doré – the GeoForensic Passport. This passport, which is based on the chemical composition of doré bars, was created for each supplier of Metalor using a multivariate statistical approach. Metalor now compares every doré received against that database, allowing it to identify any potentially problematic shipments.

The GeoForensic Passport is a technical tool based on geochemical and geostatistical methods with which the declaration of origin made by a supplier of precious metals can be confirmed. Confirmation of origin is possible using a series of scientific methods, following which even small percentage mixtures (<10%) can be detected. It provides a direct link between the ore body/mine and the refinery. It uses existing analytical equipment for the analysis; therefore, the method is low cost.

By design, the GeoForensic Passport is immune from declaratory fraud and is a safe, scientifically proven and reliable anomaly detection tool.

The results depend on the quality of the analyses and access to a historical database, with data collected for a few months before the implementation of the GeoForensic Passport.

Dr Barbara Beck

By Dr Barbara Beck
Lecturer & Senior Researcher, University of Lausanne

Dr Barbara Beck graduated in Earth Sciences at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and received her doctoral degree at the Universities of Lausanne and Fribourg in the field of archaeometry, a research topic which aims to solve historical or archaeological questions with extended mineralogical methods. She then worked at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology and later, for the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, Consumer Protection Division.

She is currently a lecturer in the field of natural resource management and senior researcher at the University of Lausanne. With her research, she aims to use mineralogical, geochemical and geostatistical tools to solve issues relating to the traceability of mined gold.