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Commentary: Blockchain can help break the chains of modern slavery, but it is not a complete solution

"Blockchain can help break the chains of modern slavery, but it is not a complete solution", 2 May 2019

...There’s...a chance the cobalt was mined by slaves.

...[T]he Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)...has a notorious recent history of human rights abuses, including slave labour.

...Some businesses see a solution in blockchain, the technology behind bitcoin, to verify global supply chains.

...So how can we ensure supply chains are not tainted by modern slavery?

This is where companies are experimenting with blockchain technology...

...Blockchain technology can therefore be used to create a verified and tamper-proof record of supply chains from source to end user.

...Ford and IBM are part of the consortium looking to use the technology to monitor cobalt supplies....

...While blockchain is promising, we need to address several challenges if it is going to work.

A crucial element in any blockchain is the “consensus protocol”. ...In a blockchain dedicated to ethical sourcing it is crucial that workers can attest to their working conditions....

Second, it is important to know what standard for ethical sourcing a blockchain upholds....

Third...[s]ince the integrity of blockchain data depends on humans, it is vulnerable to inaccuracies or fraud.

Fourth, blockchain may create a “digital divide”. [S]maller suppliers may be left out....

...But no technology on its own can solve a complex social problem.

...If humans want to undermine accountability systems, they will find ways of doing so.

Just recording transactions is not enough. As part of a comprehensive agenda to tackle the myriad factors underlying modern slavery, though, it may prove a useful tool.