Blog Articles

By - Brian Iselin

Published : 18-10-2018

A comprehensive global end-to-end supply chain transparency initiative to end slavery.

slavefreetrade has come into being at a time of revolutionary technology that enables our mission. We provide the world’s first human rights compliance platform for workplaces. We do this to help decent work win out over modern slavery; they are mutually exclusive conditions.

That solution has demanded the coming together of two major pieces of work: a comprehensive human rights framework, and the technology to deploy, automate, and scale.

Elsewhere we have written about the human rights framework. But we are very, very often asked about our technology, which can best be described as ‘cutting edge hybrid’. slavefreetrade is a working use case for at half a dozen technological innovations, including several in the blockchain realm.

A point to be made from the start is the interconnectivity and interoperability of most of those applications; we are building an entire ecosystem around ethical business and supply chain transparency. And, while many sell, and are looking for, a 100% blockchain solution to commercial and social impact issues, we have learned in the last 2 years that every use case is different. We determined that for a system that does what we want it to do, a hybrid is essential.

In our experience of the last several years, blockchain has great value, but is overhyped. It is hot. But there is probably not enough focus on its core value and how it can build more utile systems when combined with conventional tech. The value of blockchain for our use case comes in for supplier and worker identity, anonymity, encryption and time-stamping.

And while our goal is to end slavery, everything we are developing on the technology has far broader application and potential greater impact than only on slavery. Our work presents simultaneous revolutions in supply chain management and transparency, worker participation, measuring human rights, financial inclusion, and ethical consumerism, to name a few.

Supply Chain Transparency

We deliver a custom-built platform. As Salesforce is to CRM, so slavefreetrade is to human rights management.

The spine of that platform is a custom-built end-to-end supply chain management system built on Microsoft Azure, using features of the Hyperledger blockchain.

Our unit of measure is work sites. Every worksite in our platform has a unique identifier. We assess and monitor working conditions in every worksite globally, in real time and on a continuing basis. As we are fond of saying: human rights in real time, all the time.

We track conditions in worksites in a supply chain from plantation to retailer shelf, through all steps in the value chain. Products that emanate from those workplaces are licenced to carry our mark of slave-free. Only products that emanate from a complete chain of positively assessed workplaces can make the retail shelf with the label. When you see it on the shelf, you can be sure it is slave-free.


At various intersections with this worksite assessment and monitoring spine, we are building a number of decentralised applications to connect the information to those who need or want it:

  1. A consumer-facing application focused on re-building trust between shoppers and retailers. The retail market is characterised by information asymmetry; that is, consumers have very little information about the genuine provenance of the things they buy. Our consumer app seeks to better connect ethical consumers with ethical retailers. This is aimed at addressing the at-least 40% shortfall between ethical consumers and ethical products; while lots of people want to buy ethical, they a) cannot find them, and b) have too little information at point of sale.

    The consumer-facing app brings the background of slave-free products to the smartphone of the ethical consumer. When you scan the barcode of any product in any store, the app takes a look and tells you if it is a licenced lave-free product or not (whether you see a label on it or not).

    If the product is slave-free, the app helps you celebrate and offers you a fully mapped journey down the supply chain, wherever the product went, interacting with workplaces as you go. At the bottom of the chain, the app gives you the chance to look in detail at a worksite, take a video tour, and even tip the workers who picked your coffee beans.

    If the product is not slave-free, the ap lets you know, and offers you the chance to either ‘start a movement’ (if that product is not in the system), or ‘join a movement’ for those products already in the system). At a certain critical moment, enough joiners to a movement and we can tell the makers of that product there is a growing movement for them to go slave-free.
  2. The platform is effectively B2B, a tool for business to render their supply chain transparent. We are developing a smartphone interface for the platform so the dashboard and tools available on the platform can become available on the go. This app carries features from the platform such as mapping and visualisation, business partner connectivity and chat, product search, and scoring/rating of entire supply chains and worksites therein.

    We don’t believe businesses which want to sell ethical should have the trouble they presently have to find ethical. At present, expensive ethical sourcing advisors are required to explore and find new ethical sources. And there is no coming together of ethical buyers and sellers.
  3. In Phase 2, we are preparing an auditor-facing app. While we automate and scale the assessment and monitoring of worksites, we still see value in physical audits, and have designed an audit regime at twice the strength of Fairtrade’s audit regime. This includes a variety of audits: random and scheduled audits by social compliance auditors, random and scheduled site visits by our local civil society partner network, and targeted work addressing specific issues identified by the platform. We conduct audits for integrity, but also for calibration (to make sure the view in the platform matches the view on the ground), and trust-building. Any worker-voice program demands high and increasing levels of trust between employer and employee, and between the employee and our platform. Confidence-building measures, including trust-building site visits, are a crucial part of what we do.

    The auditor app is designed for completing assessments (both internal preparedness assessments and external assessor modes) made on our human rights framework which is in turn built against our labour and supply chain principles. This application overcomes much of the fraud related to audit; provides biometric protection, GPS and time-locked for completion, and immutable after signing.

We have several additional projects of relevance to slavery, and more broadly:

  • Distributed digital identity for workers. Many workers around the world are more vulnerable to slavery because of their lack of identity. These people are either displaced, and therefore living and working outside their normal homes, or are a population overlooked by the government of their territory, not recognised, and not provided identity documents. We believe by providing distributed digital identity for these vulnerable workers we can promote their inclusion in the workforce and improve the safety of any related migration or movement, as well as enable other connections with them such as efforts to promote their financial inclusion and access to much-needed health services.

    An important consequence for us from providing digital identity to workers is that it improves the security and confidentiality of worker responses to us, and provides the most rigourous anonymity.

Much that was not possible just five years ago, now is, by virtue of useful parts of decentralised technology, in the form of distributed ledger. Combining the known capabilities of conventional technology with the most particular features of blockchain, we can build what was not possible.

While none of us know where this technology will take us, and it is also not without its weaknesses, it enables organisations like slavefreetrade to come up with astounding and innovative solutions to old challenges.

We will continue to innovate in the social impact space, and seek technological support for solutions to social impact issues. Our work will never be done.

Adam Van Zyl   at  12:50 am 04-02-2019
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