Coca-Cola and the U.S. Department of State announced earlier this week that they are spearheading a private-public initiative to crack down on forced labor in their supply chains. The solution? Blockchain technology. Coca-Cola and the State Department, as well as two other companies, will use the distributed ledger technology in an attempt to build a secure registry for the workers throughout their entire global workforces. A representative for the State Department told Reuters that this is the agency’s first major project involving blockchain, which reinforces the technology’s growing application for social causes.
The announcement comes on the heels of an in depth study, released last year, of the supply chains of 20 international food and beverage companies. The study, created by KnowTheChain (KTC), a project that describes itself as “a resource for companies and investors to understand and address forced labor risks within their global supply chains,” found that most of the companies had fallen short of their own goals to combat the use of forced labor in their supply chains.
The International Labor Organization estimates nearly 25 million people are working in forced-labor conditions around the globe. Of particular concern to Coca-Cola is that 47 percent of those estimated workers are in the Asia-Pacific region, where the beverage giant sources the majority of its sugarcane. Brent Wilton, the company’s global head of workplace rights, told Reuters that “[Coca-Cola is] partnering with the pilot of this project to further increase transparency and efficiency of the verification process related to the labor policies within our supply chain.”
Coca-Cola intends to utilize blockchain’s validation and digital notary capabilities in a bid to protect workers and their contracts, with The State Department advising the company on labor protection practices. Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby noted that, while the use of blockchain by itself can’t compel a company to abide by labor contracts, it does provide a validated (and immutable) chain of evidence, which ideally encourages the company to honor such contracts.
The blockchain will be built by the Bitfury Group, a U.S. tech company. Another company, Emercoin, will provide additional blockchain services. The project is also collaborating with Blockchain Trust Accelerator, a non-profit focused on providing positive worldwide impact via blockchain. This is not the first report of organizations beginning to adopt blockchain technology to solve global and local issues. Just this month, the UN announced they are partnering with the cryptowallet startup Blockchain to explore applications for blockchain to help solve issues in a range of areas, from natural resource conservation to the protection of voting rights and transparency in elections.
These developments suggest that the perception of blockchain technology, long associated in the public mind with its cryptocurrency origins, is slowly changing, as its broader possible applications are explored. Indeed, another organization, ConsenSys, consisting of 22 separate organizations, is in the process of developing an incubator for blockchain-based social initiatives to tackle humanitarian issues. Due to blockchain’s transparency and immutability, it could end up being a valuable tool in creating more transparent and democratic models, helping to remove barriers to access.