According to a recent Global Slavery Index report, seafood companies are failing to prevent forced labor and outright slavery in their supply chains.

There are some 300,000 forced-laborers in the Thai fishing industry alone. Many of these people are migrant workers, mostly from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Using blockchains to enforce labor standards

The same blockchain technology currently being used to combat illegal and unreported fishing can also be used to eliminate occurrences of forced labor and slavery. Here are some ways to effectively use the blockchain to protect labor workers:

Worker identification

Middlemen and traffickers routinely confiscate passports, identity cards and other documents from migrant workers, turning them into virtual prisoners. A blockchain allows a unique data identifier to be linked to any person, making that individual visible and traceable, thus, holding their employers accountable. Recent advances in biometrics — such as India’s Aadhaar system — allow for the creation of unique worker ID databases, which can be monitored by businesses, NGOs and regulatory agencies.

Wearable Tech

Remote monitoring of working conditions and the physical well-being of workers can now be done in real-time, with the use of wearable devices, connected via the Internet-of-Things (IoT). Capturing this kind of data can prevent physical beatings, deprivation of food and water, sexual abuse and instances of laborers being killed and thrown overboard.

But can blockchain alone solve labor abuses or is this yet another example of an over-hyped techno-solution?

Creating an ecosystem around the blockchain presents significant challenges. According to Pavel Bains, CEO of Bluzelle, a Singapore based tech firm that’s revolutionizing decentralized internet data storage, it’s not that easy.

Bains says that trying to link blockchain to different operating systems with different protocols can be a non-starter–at least for now. The interoperability of an external blockchain with a large multinational’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, for example, could involve having to grapple with non-compatible data rendering and processing platforms.

Other vital stakeholders such as governments and small businesses often lag far behind technology-savvy NGOs. And then there’s the “what’s in it for me” mentality, held by fishing boat operators and other small business owners who view the use of scanning devices, RFID tags and other technology with suspicion. RFID tags are expensive, so costs will need to come down before the Provenance blockchain model can be scaled up.

Even if the blockchain ecosystem works by leveraging the latest in, for example, AI, digital platforms, data analytics, and satellite technology, there are those who worry about privacy. Putting the equivalent of a cattle-monitoring device on a human being to obtain work-related data seems downright dystopian.

Regardless, blockchain is the biggest technology disruption since the advent of the internet. It will transform global supply chains. Eventually, there will be nowhere to hide for fish poachers, human traffickers and unscrupulous middlemen.

Read the full article and its insights here.

Image credit: Business vector created by Macrovector –