Advertise with BNC

Provenance tackles slavery in the fish trade, with blockchain technology

According to the Global Slavery Index,  “Two thirds of the estimated 45.8 million people in modern slavery were identified in the Asia-Pacific,” including a large number forced to work on fishing vessels throughout the region.

According to the Global Slavery Index,  “Two thirds of the estimated 45.8 million people in modern slavery were identified in the Asia-Pacific,” including a large number forced to work on fishing vessels throughout the region.

While nailing down the exact number of slaves in the region is impossible, we know that up to 270,000 more are forced to work on Thai fishing boats, thanks to field research conducted by the Guardian and the Associated Press. The latter included a Pulitzer prize-winning story that led to freedom for thousands of slaves in Indonesia. Unfortunately, due to obfuscated supply chains, global consumers can do very little to avoid the end product.

The Guardian Logo“The Thai fishing industry is built on slavery, with men often beaten, tortured and sometimes killed – all to catch ‘trash fish’ to feed the cheap farmed prawns sold in the west.”
— – The Guardian

Searching for a better life from poverty-stricken countries nearby, immigrants arriving in Thailand are captured and quickly sold as forced laborers to fishing boat captains. Once aboard, they catch a large percentage of the world ‘trash fish,’ inedible or infant species of fish later ground into fishmeal for Thailand’s multibillion-dollar farmed prawn industry.

“In cases where a distant supplier uses a third party to source manpower it is easy for some very important things to slip through the cracks,” said John Solomon, the director of threat research at Thomson Reuters World-Check. “A pattern is emerging where the crewing agencies are the ones driving the forced labor in the supply chain.”

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) explored the need for transparency in supply chains in their recent report, “The Role of Supply Chains in Addressing the Global Seafood Crisis.” UNEP states that, “Most sustainability issues such as ill-adapted governance and institutions, open access, unfair fishing, Illegal Unregulated and Unreported fishing (IUU), bad working conditions, lack of price transparency and information sharing etc, are concentrated at the level of production and first intermediaries/processors.”

The program recommends constructing “Traceability methods that allow tracking the fish from the net to the shelves.” Most importantly, the process must be set up to collect the data right at the catch. “It is particularly important that this information is integrated from the starting point of the chain, as it is very difficult to reconstruct afterwards.”

United Nations Environment Program twitter“Traceability is a crucial and fundamental component for sustainable supply chains.”
— – United Nations Environment Program

Public blockchains, like Bitcoin’s, can be used to track the complete supply chain for each seafood product, according to London-based startup Provenance. The company was established to enable trusted transparency of key social and environmental indicators along even the most complex chains of custody, to incentivize ethical labour practice and environmental preservation, aid standards compliance, and eradicate fraudulent reporting.

Provenance recently announced that the very first fish has been put on a blockchain. The startup recently completed a six-month trial in the Indonesian fishing industry, not far from the waters where slaves are toiling away at this moment. “The pilot was successful in tracking fish and key social claims down the chain to export,” states the company.

The trial involved eight local companies tracking their fresh catch by adding them to a public blockchain with a simple SMS message. The catch, processing, accreditation, packaging, shipping, and shelving of every filet’s history can then be recorded online for the world to scrutinize.

Provenance twitter"This pilot is an important step in proving that complex, global supply chains can be made transparent by utilising blockchain technology. The current system has flaws, and we are desperately in need of a solution to help consumers make more conscious decisions when purchasing goods."
— – Jessi Baker, CEO and founder of Provenance

A ‘virtual fish’ asset follows along with the real one, only in cyberspace it can’t be tampered with. At the other end of the supply chain, customers in the grocery store will be able to scan a Provenance QR code with their smartphones on each of the end products.

Consumers can learn everything about the products history, starting from the moment the fisherman first put it on the blockchain. The trial fish started it’s journey in the northern coastal cities of Indonesia, and ended up in the seafood aisle of a London grocery store.

“We conducted a workshop and in-store prototyping session with local Brighton supermarket Hisbe Food CIC,” the startup announced. “The workshop provided significant insights on consumer behavior, influencing ideas for how Provenance technology could best manifest in a supermarket scenario.”

“Sharing data securely between different parties is a clear barrier for achieving the level of trusted traceability needed to prove slavery-free fish.”
— – Baker

Provenance studied three key phases in the supply chain. Phase one, ‘the first mile,’ had the Provenance team working onboard boats. They taught fishermen how to send SMS messages to the blockchain to datestamp and register their catch.

Each message resulted in a new blockchain asset, which was then transferred from the fisherman to the supplier when the catch was sold. Both the identities of the fisherman and the supplier are pre-screened and registered, providing accountability for each step.

Phase two involves processing, certification, and packaging. It starts with the supplier affixing a QR code or RFID tag, displaying the blockchain address, to each fish or product. From that point, the history of the catch is easily accessible to anyone with a smartphone. When the product changes form, such as being put in its packaging or cut into filets, those new items will each be registered on the blockchain, linking back to the original catch.

Phase three starts when the final product is readied for the store shelf. Further tagging may take place if the catch is divided up further. Consumers can then scan the information before making their purchase, which adds a new level of trust for a product. They will see its provenance from the catches origin and through the supply chain, with data about each step all the way to the shelf.

“2D barcodes can store the address of a digital asset on the blockchain and can be generated in batches. However, it is easy to copy these tags at any stage of the supply chain, which would undermine the validity of the physical product associated to the blockchain.”
— – Baker

The Provenance team has yet to decide how to deal with sticker fraud and accidental duplication. However this is accomplished, it’s sure to add a cost to the consumer. The more expensive a product, the more reliable its tracking component needs to be, according to Baker.

With a vast amount of information, including accreditations, permits, and everybody involved in farming or processing each product, Provenance is betting consumers will be happy to fork out a few more cents to make it happen.

“The next challenges are building scalability so that traceability systems can operate across borders and certifying authorities,” Baker explained. This will include “educating consumers that it is worth paying more for sustainably-caught traceable fish where workers are paid a fair and decent wage.”

Provenance isn’t stopping here in their fight to help bring an end to human slavery. Through further research and finding new partnerships, including This Fish, USAID/OCEANS, and Fair trade USA, Baker wants to avoid duplicate efforts, preferring to work with them to “support the quest for technology to bring sustainability and trust to the tuna products of Indonesia.”


BNC AdvertisingPlanning your 2024 crypto-media spend? Brave New Coin’s combined website, podcast, newsletters and YouTube channel deliver over 500,000 brand impressions a month to engaged crypto fans worldwide.
Don’t miss out – Find out more today

Advertise with BNC
Advertise with BNC
BNC Newsletters: A weekly digest of the most important news and analysis.
Advertise with BNC
Submit an event on
Latest Insights More
Advertise with BNC