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The geography of gold

June 2012

As the price of gold has soared, more people have begun to question how, and by whom, their gold is mined and procured

The geography of gold

The price of gold reached an all-time high in 2011. This is a product of the global economic downturn that began in 2008 which left investors wary of buying company shares and government bonds. In contrast, gold is viewed as a "safe haven" for investment. But as prices have soared, more people have begun to question how, and by whom, their gold is mined and procured.

The gold trade’s critics describe it as "dirty". They say it is riddled with exploitation, pollution and conflict. In this article, we explore the geological and economic processes that give gold value. The costs and benefits for mining communities and their local environments are also analysed.

Finally, some new ethical gold mining initiatives are outlined. These aim to clean up the global gold trade, focusing in particular on the practices of the informal (artisanal) mining sector in China, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries where millions of people work in one of the world’s most dangerous industries.


This article is useful for A2 students who are seeking synoptic linkages between physical and human geography or who are studying the impacts of industry and / or global trade. It is highly relevant to IBO Diploma students taking the Higher Level "Global Interactions" course. It can also be adapted by teachers for KS3 geography. Students may explore mysteries such as: Why has gold reached record prices? What is Fairtrade Gold? Why is there Fairtrade gold on top of Chichester cathedral?

In the Members' Area:

  • Gold, geology and the global economy
  • The global gold trade, ethics and the environment
  • References

Sign in to read the full article. If you are not already a member you can join us as a School Member or Young Geographer and access our vast library of educational articles.


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