BMW Hoping Blockchain Can Remove Child Labor From Its Supply Chain

BMW is participating in a blockchain trial that seeks to lay the groundwork for a cobalt supply chain that is free of child labor.

  • The German luxury automobile company BMW is reportedly involved in a blockchain pilot project aimed at removing child labor from the supply chain that brings the metal cobalt from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo to factories, where it’s used in electric vehicle batteries.

    Child and forced labor practices in Congolese mines have been documented extensively, especially in the eastern part of the country, where, in certain areas, the rule of law is relatively weak.

    The global market for cobalt, which is also used in smart phone batteries, approximately doubled between the end of 2016 and the end of 2017. About two-thirds of the world’s supply comes from Congo-Kinshasa, with roughly a fifth of that amount originating in unregulated “artisanal” mines.

    Douglas Johnson-Poensgen, the CEO of Circulor, the British startup behind the pilot, said that the project will involve barcodes that help the blockchain track mined cobalt at various key points throughout its journey.

    The company reported that the program will track cobalt that is presumably ethically-sourced because it comes from Australia, Canada, and industrial mines in D.R. Congo. By press time, neither BMW nor Circulor had responded to an ETHNews inquiry asking how they could be sure that no illicitly-mined cobalt would be added to a conventionally mined batch before it is recorded onto the blockchain.

    Johnson-Poensgen observed that once “the system is proven and operating at scale, one can tackle the harder use cases like artisanal mines.” ETHNews will update this story if and when BMW or Circulor respond to our request for an explanation of how they propose to compel operators of unregulated mines to adopt their child labor standards. 

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