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Levi Strauss to use blockchain to track factory worker health

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Today Harvard University, the New America think tank and ConsenSys launched a two-year blockchain initiative to develop a system to track worker well-being at factories that supply Levi Strauss. The $800,000 collaboration is supported by the U.S. State Department, Levi Strauss Foundation and ConsenSys.

Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health has been working with Levi Strauss & Co since 2015 measuring the well-being of nearly 9,000 workers to date. The new system will anonymously and securely track worker well-being on a blockchain. One benefit is once the data is recorded it’s tough to tamper with it. Another is anonymity. Three Mexican factories will be tested in the second quarter of this year with another test in 2020.

There are numerous blockchain projects aimed at targeting food traceability, and product provenance. And many of those include sustainability and ethical practices. One example is Pacifical fishing which is employing blockchain for tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific. In that case, there’s an observer and third-party audits.

Blockchains are often touted as a shared source of “truth” because the data is extremely hard to alter. But the big challenge is ensuring that the information that’s stored is accurate and hasn’t been interfered with in advance. Quartz India published an excellent article on the topic.

So a vital aspect of this Harvard project is the ability to provide anonymity. Otherwise, workers might fear for their livelihood which would inhibit genuine responses.

“For the last 25 years, work in supply chains has been monitored mainly by audits. We know from research and serious traumatic events that this system alone is not effective. A distributed system of inquiry on the blockchain that goes right to the source [workers] offers a new solution. Most supply chain blockchain use cases are for material tracking, so leveraging this new technology for the evaluation of the human condition is an exciting innovation with broad potential for positive impact on worker well-being worldwide,” said Dr. Eileen McNeely, Director of SHINE at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

ConsenSys Founder Joe Lubin said: “Our goal is to develop, test, and scale a system that could empower employees, suppliers, and consumers to make informed decisions about factories, products, and brands.”