WEF: Blockchain To Support Responsible Sourcing

Traceability is a system feature of blockchain, that sourcing projects rely upon. What else? Digital Asset Live Editor-in-Chief talks to Nadia Hewett, the World Economic Forum Lead for Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology Projects.

Q1: WEF has teamed up with over 100 global supply chain and logistics leaders to standardize blockchain apps in the industry. How did you manage? Which challenges did you experience and lesson did you draw along the way?

A1: The goal of this project is to co-design guidelines for blockchain deployment that can be applicable to diverse supply chains that consist of many stakeholders with differing relationships and incentives.

By bringing potential industry competitors together to co-develop and share their lessons and insights on blockchain deployment, this project aims to reduce missteps and embed best practices with the technology.

Think of the final toolkit we will launch in 2020 as a selection of tools to provide an outline on key considerations tasks, comprehension and detailed instructional and information guidelines.

As blockchain technology is such a nascent technology, global supply chain and logistics leaders do not yet have clear guidelines, norms or frameworks helping with well-designed blockchain solution development. The ecosystem needs such frameworks to ensure that there is careful consideration of unintended consequences and that lessons are shared. So the governments, companies, start-ups, academic institutions, civil society, and others that joined this project recognized that collaboration is key. This World Economic Forum project hence provides the ecosystem with an impartial platform to collaborate and to encourage blockchain deployments with integrity, inclusivity and interoperability. From that perspective the interest to join was great from the industry and the on-going participation and momentum has been great.

We have seen that challenges along the way typically comes from the fact that 1) blockchain technology itself remains in its early adolescence 2) the hype created around the technology – it is difficult to distinguish the real deal from the marketing message 3) as blockchain is the ultimate networked technology which needs ecosystem collaboration

Q2: There are already major blockchain standards, what is your vision to solve the issue of interoperability?

A2: The risk of a lack of system interoperability and a siloed approach are of real concern within the supply chain ecosystem, especially given stakeholder complexity and misaligned interests, so taking a systemic and inclusive approach to this technology is critical.

The toolkit which the community is co-developing will provide tools to help guide blockchain deployment.

Open-sourcing such guidelines will encourage and guide decision makers towards interoperability, integrity and inclusivity in the design and deployment of blockchain for supply chains.

The project will highlight core considerations and requirements across both technical and non-technical drivers of success and help decision making around pillars such as data privacy, control, ecosystem collaboration and security.
The focus is not on recreating any existing or on-going work on interoperability.

Q4: Can this project be extrapolated to other industries? Which ones? Do you have any plans or projects in your pipeline that you may disclose now?

A4: The goal of this project is to co-design and pilot guidelines and frameworks for blockchain that can be applicable to diverse supply chains that consist of many stakeholders with differing relationships and incentives.

Q3: In the end of October 2019, the World Economic Forum and seven major mining and metals firms announced a partnership to develop responsible sourcing and sustainability practices using blockchain. Why? How will this project be implemented?

A3: The mining and metals industry has an opportunity now to build consensus and trust around responsible sourcing. Blockchain technology can be a key enabler and an opportunity to support responsible sourcing. In most cases, blockchain projects to support responsible sourcing has been bilateral of nature. This approach can undermine the transformation that blockchain technology has the potential to bring about for the mining and metals industry. The result is a fractured system that a) leaves behind parts of the ecosystem, b) lacks standardization, interoperability and integration and c) weakens the industry’s ability to lead and leverage the opportunity blockchain technology has to offer to improve responsible sourcing and internal and external brand reputation. With that context, this project was initiated by the Forum with these seven mining and metals first. This is an industry-led initiative, owned and driven by the industry.

Q5: What kind of responsible sourcing and sustainability practices do you pursue, and how can the trust problem may be resolved here?

A5: The aim is to leverage the use of blockchain technology to support responsible sourcing. Collaborative deliverables and results to support this aim can take many forms. Part of the collaboration is to understand where blockchain technology is the most appropriate technology to support responsible sourcing efforts in the industry. This exploration is part of the process.

Q6: How will every actor to this supply chain benefit from the project, can you elaborate, perhaps with numbers where applicable?

A6: Referring to the mining and metals collaboration project – by collaborating, the benefits are that these companies (in their blockchain experimentation), will complement and accelerate existing setting of data and software standards.

It will help with collaborative R&D around blockchain technology and will allow the industry to identify desirable, feasible and viable industry use cases that support responsible sourcing.

It will allow the industry to better service the needs their customers, investors, and employees have as it pertains to responsible sourcing.