IBM wants to launch an ‘Uber-like’ blockchain network to stop child miners
Mining & Resources
A boy works at a coal depot in Jaintia Hills, India in 2011. Pic: Getty
Computer giant IBM is working on bringing an “Uber-like” blockchain solution to the mining sector that can track minerals from mine to market.
“This is a radical idea,” IBM blockchain boss Juergen Kuebler told delegates at the International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“A lot of material goes from A to B. What if you have an Uber-like system that you can order almost at will?
“I understand we’re not quite there yet and there’s a lot of problems to overcome, but what if you could hire trucks or ships automatically within a system or these entities register in and out of the blockchain and you can basically still see where your material is?”
Secure tracking would assure consumers that materials in products such as mobile phone had been mined ethically in regions known for child labour.
Blockchain is best known as the basis of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. But it has many other potential applications such as securing digital contracts and supply chain data.
The technology allows a publicly available, tamper-proof, traceable record of digital transactions that can be automatically logged in the physical world using radio frequency ID tags (RFIDs).
IBM is already doing something similar with its Food Trust product.
“We can trace everything from the farm to the table, whether it is temperature control the entire way or not,” Mr Kuebler said.
“So we have these abilities and we will deploy them in a Uber for logistics scenario for the mining industry.”
IBM is currently scrutinising six potential blockchain product options for the mining industry and expects to launch two in the next week or so.
The first one is a “responsible sourcing of minerals” blockchain platform.
The origin of cobalt is becoming a major consumer issue because of the use of child labour in some countries like the Congo, which supplies around 60 per cent of the world’s supply.
Companies such as Apple — which needs cobalt for its phone batteries — are putting pressure on suppliers to prove they buy from ethical miners.
The London Metal Exchange also recently launched its own investigation into whether or not any of the cobalt it was trading came from unethical sources.
In 2016, an Amnesty International report titled “This is what we die for”, pointed out the child labour and social economic problems in the Congo and other countries.
IBM is responding by launching a blockchain system that will track the mineral across the entire supply chain.
Mr Kuebler said IBM has already signed on major original equipment manufacturers along with other large participants.
“This will provide you with an option where you can have a system that without a question shows you the provenance (origin) of all battery minerals that enter the system,” he said.
IBM is also working on a second blockchain solution that digitises all of the documents in the supply chain.
The company already does the same with TradeLens – a partnership with shipping giant Maersk that uses blockchain technology to ensure the veracity, security, and timeliness of data submissions and movements between parties.