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How Blockchain Fights Slavery in the Fishing Industry

Seafood is one of the most-traded food commodities worldwide. But the system is broken.
July 8, 2020 · 2 min read

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major threat to ocean ecosystems worldwide. Furthermore, it is often associated with modern-day slavery as several reports have shown.

Ian Urbina has been writing for years for The New York Times about crimes offshore and “Sea Slaves”. Associated Press journalists investigated the fishing industry in Southeast Asia. Their reporting “Seafood from Slaves” freed more than 2,000 slaves and traced the seafood they caught to supermarkets across the U.S.

Improving Food Traceability

Blockchain technology can be used to track seafood along global supply chains — from sea to plate. This allows consumers to verify claims about sustainable and ethical sources with smartphone apps.

“Traceability is fundamental to ensuring your supply chain is not tainted with forced labors…” — Ed Marcum, Managing Director of Humanity United

Provenance: “Tracking tuna on the blockchain”

Food traceability has been shown to be successful in a pilot project, supported by Humanity United and run in Indonesia by the British technology company Provenance, the results of which are released in a report.

This pilot shows how unique tools built by Provenance can be used to prove claims made about products along a supply chain, by tracking chain-of-custody, allowing consumers to access verified information about the origins of fish they are purchasing in a store or at a restaurant.

Provenance’s tested application is designed to work through a simple smartphone interface. It links identity, location, material attributes, certifications, and audit information of an object, in this case, a tuna fish, with a specific item or batch ID on the blockchain, that can be digitally transferred on sale, e.g. from fisherman to supplier and beyond.

WWF New Zealand: “From Bait to Plate”

The Blockchain Supply Chain Traceability Project is an initiative in the Western and Central Pacific region. It uses digital technology to track fish from vessels to supermarkets — described in detail in the project report “Blockchain: Transforming the Seafood Supply Chain” (PDF).

OpenSC: “Supply Chain Traceability”

With OpenSC, businesses can track their products, such as fish, by attaching a digital tag at their original point of production. This tag is linked to a tamper-proof blockchain platform which automatically records the movement of the product through the supply chain.

This allows consumers to discover the full history of a product using nothing more than their smartphone to scan the product’s QR code. Once the code is scanned, OpenSC automatically provides details regarding where the product came from, when and how it was produced, and how it journeyed along the supply chain.

“Through OpenSC, we will have a whole new level of transparency about whether the food we eat is contributing to environmental degradation of habitats and species, as well as social injustice and human rights issues such as slavery.” — Dermot O’Gorman, WWF-Australia CEO

With this knowledge, OpenSC empowers consumers to make informed purchasing decisions at the touch of a finger.

The Future of Supply Chains

Provenance, WWF New Zealand’s Traceability Project, and OpenSC are three promising initiatives to fight slavery in the fishing industry. These pioneering projects show how blockchain technology can lead the way — to consumer awareness and sustainable supply chains.

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