Unilever, DFID, Sainsbury’s, Cambridge, Banks, Start-ups Launch Blockchain Pilot to Increase Sustainability in Supply Chains

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“Unilever has committed to sourcing 100 per cent of its raw agricultural materials sustainably,” said Keith Weed, Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer and Head of Sustainable Business.

The problem, however, is the first mile, which can often be opaque and unaccountable with a new partnership formed to increase transparency of sustainable produce for consumers, businesses, banks and governments through the use of blockchain technology.

“This innovative new technology will help us to increase sustainable sourcing, enhance the livelihoods of the smallholder farmers we work with around the world, and help to make sustainable agriculture mainstream.

We have an important role to play in providing healthy food from a healthy planet, and we’re proud to be working with industry leaders on new technologies to bring us closer to this goal,” Weed says.

Those industry leaders come from both the public and private sector, launching a year long pilot using blockchain technology towards sustainable supply chains with funding of more than £600,000.

Some £340,000 of it comes from UK aid through the Department for International Development (DFID) with the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) convening this group of banks, supermarkets, multinationals and start-ups.

Banks, in particular, want to see whether the new system can provide sustainability data that is material to their risk assessments. That includes compliance with a number of laws, such as the Slavery Act.

“This technology has the real potential to help banks access more detailed and more reliable information about social and environmental impacts in a secure way, throughout the entire supply chain,” said Marguerite Burghardt, Head of the Trade Finance Competence Center, BNP Paribas, one of three banking partners involved.

The other two are Standard Chartered and Barclays, with the latter incubating a new start-up, called Halotrade.

“I conceived the idea of Halotrade about 18 months ago, when I heard on the radio about how corporates in the UK were going to have to provide transparency statements about their supply chains” Shona Tatchell, head of innovation, trade and working capital at Barclays says before adding:

“I realised that blockchain technology, combined with supply-chain financing, could be used to try to drive systemic change in the way products are manufactured and shipped around the world in global supply chains.”

Another start-up is Landmapp, which will provide land rights documentation via mobile technology, and the FOCAFET Foundation, which will ensure open-source data standards are developed and used throughout.

With Provenance, alongside Halotrade, assisting in the implementation of blockchain tech. Jessi Baker, founder of UK-based fintech firm Provenance, says:

“Building on Provenance’s successful work using blockchain technology in supply chains, we aim to design and demonstrate the power of a collaborative ecosystem approach to tackling the Sustainable Development Goals, through linking preferential financing to verifiable sustainability claims and transparent supply chains.”

It is unclear what blockchain technology is being used. It is most probably a private blockchain, but whether it’s based on ethereum or Hyperledger is not stated.

Nonetheless, if the pilot is successful, it might find its way to a public blockchain as, consumers especially, may find the veracity of open data more trustworthy.

The project says its implementation may offer consumers “a cheaper and more reliable way to verify their products than current certification schemes,” with the implementation of blockchain tech potentially tracing better where our food comes from.

So giving consumers the power to support environmentally friendly and ethical products to increase ecological sustainability.

The pilot, therefore, might be closely watched, with its results probably not published until 2019, and if successful it may show that blockchain tech can be just as transparent as it can be anonymous, dependent on its use and configuration.

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