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Blockchain can fix supply chain failures exposed by COVID-19

Read time 3min 30sec

Blockchain technology has the ability to tackle supply chain failures exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and boost economic recovery.

This is according to the World Economic Forum, which yesterday launched the Redesigning Trust: Blockchain Deployment Toolkit, which enables leaders to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks of the technology and help organisations improve future pandemic preparedness and accelerate an economic rebound post-COVID-19.

WEF notes the pressure created by the COVID-19 outbreak on global trade systems highlights an urgent need for global cooperation to maintain and strengthen the resilience of international supply chains.

It explains that over the past four decades, much of manufacturing production world-wide has been organised in what has become known as global value chains (GVCs).

Raw materials and intermediate goods are shipped around the globe multiple times and then assembled in yet another location, says WEF, noting the final output is re-exported to final consumers located in both developed and developing markets.

For many goods, China is at the heart of such GVCs – for example, as a primary producer of high-value products and components, as a large customer of global commodities and industrial products, and as a major consumer marketplace.

China, where the pandemic can be traced back from, is also producing many intermediate inputs and is responsible for processing and assembly operations.

WEF says Foxconn, an electronics contract manufacturer, is a well-known example. Its assembly plants, located in mainland China, produce for many world-leading electronics companies, among them Apple, Intel and Sony.

It says China’s position at the heart of many GVCs is illustrated by the fact that the production decline is also associated with major contractions in international trade flows.

“COVID-19 has shown the vulnerabilities of our supply chains and the opportunity for technologies such as blockchain to boost efficiencies and strengthen trust across a range of stakeholders,” says WEF.

“However, as organisations pivot quickly to put these new technologies into place, the crisis has highlighted the need for both speed and clarity in implementations.”

WEF spent more than a year working with more than 100 organisations and 50 countries across six continents. It also dug deep into 40 blockchain use cases ranging from provenance and traceability, to automation and streamlined operations.

The toolkit’s 14 different modules represent key success and risk factors for the deployment of a blockchain solution within the supply chain context.

According to WEF, organisations can use the toolkit to support more responsible blockchain deployments, de-risk early adoption, and ensure careful consideration of unintended consequences.

It points out that resilience in supply chains depends on trust, transparency and integrity, which can be improved through the responsible deployment of blockchain technologies that offer a “shared truth”.

“The current pandemic underscores the need for businesses and governments to improve the integrity and provenance of pharmaceutical products and medical supplies, as well as food, goods, and industrial and consumer products.

“The first of its kind toolkit is the culmination of more than a year of efforts to capture best practices from blockchain deployment across industries,” says WEF.

“The blockchain deployment toolkit is essential for designing solutions that work for a multitude of actors, including smaller players who may not have access to the resources required to unlock the value of blockchain technology,” says Nadia Hewett, blockchain and digital currency project lead for WEF in the US.

“For this reason, the toolkit can level the playing field for small and medium-sized enterprises. There are many lessons to learn from the current pandemic and this toolkit is a starting point for improving long-term pandemic preparedness and accelerating an economic recovery led by public-private cooperation.”

The toolkit has been piloted in a variety of different contexts by organisations developing blockchain solutions within their supply chains, including the Abu Dhabi Digital Authority, Hitachi, Saudi Aramco, as well as a number of SMEs.

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