Tuesday, December 18, 2018
I remember, as a youngster, watching my parents check the label on the bottom of an item to see its country of origin.
“It is important to know where this product is coming from”, they would say, “It might not be good quality”.
My parents, and others like them, were aware that some countries produced goods of lower quality than others. At that time (the 60s), the ‘discerning’ consumer in North America would notice that many products originating from Japan were of poorer quality and had a shorter lifespan than those made at ‘home’.
The rumor at the time said that this problem was even recognized by some manufacturers who went to the extent of labelling their product with a city of origin, “Usa” (referring to Usa, Japan) to avoid indicating the country of origin, “Japan”.
Maybe the rumor was propagated by North American manufacturers eager to assure their ‘home’ market. Maybe the rumor was fact. Either way, the lesson for me at the time was that as a young consumer, I had the power to choose. I even had the power to discriminate between what I was being told in advertising, and what I could reason.
Fast forward fifty-plus years.
We have developed tests, audits, industry guidelines and government regulations to help assure that the quality we have ordered is in fact delivered.
Old questions of product quality have progressed to new questions of responsibility.
Now the focus of the consumer, both the individual and the corporation, has turned to the evaluation of the moral and social conditions under which a product is sourced, supplied, and manufactured.
The advent of a new era in instant communication, social activism, and conscious consumerism is uncovering what had previously been unknown or unavailable.
Consumers want to know whether a product and the products contained within that product have been sourced and manufactured responsibly.
Yet, assuring a responsible supply is not a simple matter.
A variety of older tools including audits, regulations, and guidelines, along with more recent public and peer pressure, make up part of the toolbox.
Are these tools effective? Are they sufficient? Are they misguided? Can we be assured of responsible supply?
The provenance toolbox of the new century contains another key. That key is information — information that can be available in the palm of your hand in seconds.
That information will need structure, security, transparency, and user engagement to be of value in assuring a responsible supply chain.
These are the core features of the blockchain. It is this distributed ledger technology that will provide that security, transparency and engagement.
In the coming blogs, we will look at responsible sourcing from the perspective of mineral provenance and the global supply chain …. from mine to smartphone, from mineral to metal.
I look forward to exploring the responsible supply chain with you.
Lee is a contributing researcher to Minespider. A Canadian living in France, he is an occupational physician experienced in injury prevention, chemical risk management, and international chemical regulation. Lee's career has extended from private medical practice to associate medical director for Michelin, and from President of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Association of Nova Scotia, to chair of the Cobalt REACH Consortium technical committee. He is passionate about product stewardship.