Fighting Slavery in the Seafood Industry with Blockchain Technology

african woman talking on cell phone
Mobile-based FinTech is closing the Economic Gap in Africa
May 14, 2018

Fighting Slavery in the Seafood Industry with Blockchain Technology

MUI NE, VIETNAM - 03 JANUARY, 2018: vietnamese woman holding aluminum bowl with fish and seafood on beach, Mui Ne, Vietnam

Blockchain: Can it End Slavery in the Seafood Industry

One of the most transformative technologies is Blockchain. It is the foundation for fintech platforms that are proliferating around the globe, such as cryptocurrencies. And now, the good news is that Blockchain may become a key weapon in the fight against slavery in the seafood industry.

Modern Day Slavery

According to the Global Slavery Index, an estimated 45.8 million people were enslaved in 167 countries as of 2016. And, in spite of there being laws against slavery in just about every nation in the world, governments seem to be unable or unwilling to enforce them.

The Asian seafood industry may be among the most egregious offenders. In 2015, Nestle ordered a report on the subject of forced labor and slavery in its supply chain. The report focused on the Thai market. The report revealed glaring abuses in the seafood industry in Thailand, as well as throughout Southeast Asia. Seafood companies are not monitoring their supply chains and are failing to address the issue of forced labor and slavery.

In a January 2018 article published in The Guardian, it was reported that human traffickers are operating freely across Southeast Asia. Indigent Thai, as well as immigrants from Myanmar, Laos and, Cambodia, are being exploited to support a billion dollar seafood export industry.

With lax government oversight, and the failure of fishing industry companies to be vigilant, the problem has gone unabated. However, human rights activists are excited about the possibility of employing a digital technology to finally bring an end or at least a significant curtailment of modern slavery and forced labor.


What exactly is Blockchain?

Blockchain is defined as a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography.

Provenance is utilizing Blockchain to monitor its seafood supply chain. Once a fish is caught, an RFID tag is attached by the fisherman. The fisherman then scans the tag, uploading the data to a cloud-based database. This begins the collection of Blockchain data, which will follow the fish through the entire chain of transactions until it reaches the table of the consumer.

So, why not use the same technology to combat slavery and other labor abuses in the seafood industry?

Making the Invisible Visible

Slave traffickers succeed because they steal the personal identification papers of migrants, turning them into an invisible pool of slave labor. Passports, IDs, or other travel documents are taken and promised to be returned, but migrants soon find themselves trapped because they have no travel documents.

Blockchain can enable the creation of unique identifiers for each individual, stored in a cloud-based database that would follow the person throughout their journey. Upon check-in, the blockchain identifier would be created, stored, and employers can now be held accountable for what happens to the worker.
Blockchain can store payment of wages, work schedules, and employment contracts. From beginning to end, regulators would be able to see what is happening with each worker.

There is still a long way to go before Blockchain can become an effective weapon against slavery. There are financial and privacy issues to resolve. Nevertheless, Blockchain offers the best hope so far for creating transparency in the seafood industry and eradicating the scourge of forced labor and slavery.