Using blockchain, a digital record can easily follow a catch across different factories in a supply chain © Press Association Images
Using blockchain, a digital record can easily follow a catch across different factories in a supply chain © Press Association Images

Blockchain provides 'single source of truth' for tuna supply chains

12 September 2016

Blockchain technology has been used successfully to track the sustainability of tuna supply chains.

Social enterprise Provenance conducted a trial that involved following the supply chains of two types of tuna fished in Indonesia and successfully integrating blockchain into existing auditing systems to create an unbroken record.

“No single organisation can be responsible for making data throughout a whole supply chain transparent,” said Provenance, but “building on the blockchain enables… an open platform that can deliver neutrality, reliability and security”.

Fishery supply chains are known for being opaque and carrying a high risk of modern slavery. There have been a series of high profile incidents of trafficking and other workers rights abusesenvironmentally harmful practices and unsustainable fishing methods.

Earlier this year Tesco dropped several John West tuna products because they did not meet its sustainable sourcing standards.

Provenance, a collective of designers, manufacturers and data scientists, said the transparent nature of blockchains can provide a “single source of truth” in an industry known for workers' rights abuses.

Blockchain is a shared ledger where multiple copies of the same database, stored across computers connected to the internet, communicate with each other. This allows new entries to a database to be shared with all stakeholders, while constant cross checking ensures the integrity of existing entries.

During the pilot fishermen registered a catch using a simple SMS message, creating a permanent, digital record of who caught the fish, where it was caught, its material attributes and any other audit information or accreditations.

Using a physical RDIF tag or QR code, this digital record followed the product through the supply chain. Any new information, including where the product was processed, or whether a fish was split up in the factory, was added to the original entry on the same blockchain.

By feeding information collected by existing audit systems into the blockchain, data can easily be shared between factories. “In short, the blockchain provides an audit layer sitting on top of an existing ERP [enterprise resource planning] or other data management system… providing a true end-to-end record without the need to change existing interfaces to data capture,” said Provenance.

Finally, Provenance said they conducted in-store prototyping to establish the best way of allowing consumers to access the information on the blockchain.

The pilot was not without its problems, Provenance said. For example, the physical barcodes used to tag products are vulnerable to being copied “at any stage of the supply chain, which would undermine the validity of the physical product associated to the blockchain”. However, the organisation said it was working on developing more secure physical tagging methods.

“The blockchain won’t solve traceability alone… However, it does provide an ideal base layer upon which architectures for robust traceability systems can be built and participated in without ownership by the biggest or richest actor.”

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