Technology & the Law of Corporate Responsibility – The Impact of Blockchain


Blogpost by Elizabeth Boomer: “Blockchain, a technology regularly associated with digital currency, is increasingly being utilized as a corporate social responsibility tool in major international corporations. This intersection of law, technology, and corporate responsibility was addressed earlier this month at the World Bank Law, Justice, and Development Week 2019, where the theme was Rights, Technology and Development. The law related to corporate responsibility for sustainable development is increasingly visible due in part to several lawsuits against large international corporations, alleging the use of child and forced labor. In addition, the United Nations has been working for some time on a treaty on business and human rights to encourage corporations to avoid “causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities and [to] address such impacts when they occur.”

DeBeersVolvo, and Coca-Cola, among other industry leaders, are using blockchain, a technology that allows digital information to be distributed and analyzed, but not copied or manipulated, to trace the source of materials and better manage their supply chains. These initiatives have come as welcome news in industries where child or forced labor in the supply chain can be hard to detect, e.g. conflict minerals, sugar, tobacco, and cacao. The issue is especially difficult when trying to trace the mining of cobalt for lithium ion batteries, increasingly used in electric cars, because the final product is not directly traceable to a single source.

While non governmental organizations (NGOs) have been advocating for improved corporate performance in supply chains regarding labor and environmental standards for years, blockchain may be a technological tool that could reliably trace information regarding various products – from food to minerals – that go through several layers of suppliers before being certified as slave- or child labor- free.

Child labor and forced labor are still common in some countries. The majority of countries worldwide have ratified International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 182, prohibiting the worst forms of child labor (186 ratifications), as well as the ILO Convention prohibiting forced labor (No. 29, with 178 ratifications), and the abolition of forced labor (Convention No. 105, with 175 ratifications). However, the ILO estimates that approximately 40 million men and women are engaged in modern day slavery and 152 million children are subject to child labor, 38% of whom are working in hazardous conditions. The enduring existence of forced labor and child labor raises difficult ethical questions, because in many contexts, the victim does not have a viable alternative livelihood….(More)”.

GovChain


Introduction to Report by Tom Rodden: “This report addresses the most discussed digital technologies of the last few years. There has been considerable debate about the potential benefits and threats that arise from the use of Distributed Ledger Technologies. What is clear from these debates is that blockchain is an important technology that has the potential to transform a range of sectors. The importance of Distributed Ledger Technology was identified and discussed in a 2016 report produced by Sir Mark Walport, the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser at the time.

The report provided recommendations for the use of blockchain to meet national needs, and to ensure the UK’s competitiveness in the global arena. The report outlined the need for a broad response that spanned the public and private sector, whilst also recognising the need for leadership in the development and deployment of blockchain technologies.

This report provides an update and reflection on the use of blockchain technologies by Governments and Public Sector bodies around the world. Much has happened since 2016 and this report provides a reminder of the importance of Distributed Ledger Technologies for the public sector, and the various orientations of blockchains adopted across the globe. The team have mapped the various regulatory and policy responses to blockchain, and cryptocurrencies more broadly. This mapping not only reveals a varying degree of friendliness towards blockchain, it also highlights the challenges involved in implementing Distributed Ledger Technology systems in the public sector.

Distributed Ledger Technologies are an important technology for the public sector, albeit there exists a number of policy implications. If we are to show leadership in the use of blockchain and its application it is imperative that we are aware of both its benefits and limitations; and the issues that need to be addressed to ensure we gain value from the use of Distributed Ledger Technologies. This report captures the public sector experiences of blockchain technologies across the globe, and also documents the issues raised and the various responses. This is a hugely informative and useful document for those who seek to make use of blockchains in the public sector….(More)”.

When Ostrom Meets Blockchain: Exploring the Potentials of Blockchain for Commons Governance


Paper by David Rozas , Antonio Tenorio-Fornés , Silvia Díaz-Molina , and Samer Hassan: “Blockchain technologies have generated excitement, yet their potential to enable new forms of governance remains largely unexplored. Two confronting standpoints dominate the emergent debate around blockchain-based governance: discourses characterised by the presence of techno-determinist and market-driven values, which tend to ignore the complexity of social organisation; and critical accounts of such discourses which, whilst contributing to identifying limitations, consider the role of traditional centralised institutions as inherently necessary to enable democratic forms of governance. Therefore the question arises, can we build perspectives of blockchain-based governance that go beyond markets and states?

In this article we draw on the Nobel laureate economist Elinor Ostrom’s principles for self-governance of communities to explore the transformative potential of blockchain. We approach blockchain through the identification and conceptualisation of affordances that this technology may provide to communities. For each affordance, we carry out a detailed analysis situating each in the context of Ostrom’s principles, considering both the potentials of algorithmic governance and the importance of incorporating communities’ social practices. The relationships found between these affordances and Ostrom’s principles allow us to provide a perspective focussed on blockchain-based commons governance. By carrying out this analysis, we aim to expand the debate from one dominated by a culture of competition to one that promotes a culture of cooperation…(More)”.

Blockchain and the General Data Protection Regulation


Report by the European Directorate-General for Parliamentary Research Services (EPRS): “Blockchain is a much-discussed instrument that, according to some, promises to inaugurate a new era of data storage and code-execution, which could, in turn, stimulate new business models and markets. The precise impact of the technology is, of course, hard to anticipate with certainty, in particular as many remain sceptical of blockchain’s potential impact. In recent times, there has been much discussion in policy circles, academia and the private sector regarding the tension between blockchain and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Indeed, many of the points of tension between blockchain and the GDPR are due to two overarching factors.

First, the GDPR is based on an underlying assumption that in relation to each personal data point there is at least one natural or legal person – the data controller – whom data subjects can address to enforce their rights under EU data protection law. These data controllers must comply with the GDPR’s obligations. Blockchains, however, are distributed databases that often seek to achieve decentralisation by replacing a unitary actor with many different players. The lack of consensus as to how (joint-)controllership ought to be defined hampers the allocation of responsibility and accountability.

Second, the GDPR is based on the assumption that data can be modified or erased where necessary to comply with legal requirements, such as Articles 16 and 17 GDPR. Blockchains, however, render the unilateral modification of data purposefully onerous in order to ensure data integrity and to increase trust in the network. Furthermore, blockchains underline the challenges of adhering to the requirements of data minimisation and purpose limitation in the current form of the data economy.

This study examines the European data protection framework and applies it to blockchain technologies so as to document these tensions. It also highlights the fact that blockchain may help further some of the GDPR’s objectives. Concrete policy options are developed on the basis of this analysis….(More)”

Blockchain and Democracy


Literature Review by Jörn Erbguth: “Democratic states are entities where issues are decided by a large group – the people. There is a democratic process that builds upon elections, a legislative procedure, judicial review and separation of powers by checks and balances. Blockchains rely on decentralization, meaning they rely on a large group of participants as well. Blockchains are therefore confronted with similar problems. Even further, blockchains try to avoid central coordinating authorities.

Consensus methods ensure that the systems align with the majority of their participants. Above the layer of the consensus method, blockchain governance coordinates decisions about software updates, bugfixes and possibly other interventions. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this blockchain governance?
Should we use blockchain to secure e-voting? Blockchain governance has two central aspects. First, it is decentralized governance based on a large group of people, which resembles democratic decision-making. Second, it is algorithmic decision-making and limits unwanted human intervention

Cornerstones
Blockchain and democracy can be split into three areas:

First, the use of democratic principles in order to make blockchain work. This ranges from the basic concensus algorithm to the (self-)governance of a blockchain.

Second, blockchain is seen as providing a reliable tool for democracy. This ranges from the use of blockchain for electronic voting to the use in administration.

Third, to study possible impacts of blockchain technology on a democratic society. This focusses on regulatory and legal aspects as well as ethical aspects….(More)”

The New York Times thinks a blockchain could help stamp out fake news


MIT Technology Review: “Blockchain technology is at the core of a new research project the New York Times has launched, aimed at making “the origins of journalistic content clearer to [its] audience.”

The news: The Times has launched what it calls The News Provenance Project, which will experiment with ways to combat misinformation in the news media. The first project will focus on using a blockchain—specifically a platform designed by IBM—to prove that photos are authentic.

Blockchain? Really? Rumors and speculation swirled in March, after CoinDesk reported that the New York Times was looking for someone to help it develop a “blockchain-based proof-of-concept for news publishers.” Though the newspaper removed the job posting after the article came out, apparently it was serious. In a new blog post, project lead Sasha Koren explains that by using a blockchain, “we might in theory provide audiences with a way to determine the source of a photo, or whether it had been edited after it was published.”

Unfulfilled promise: Using a blockchain to prove the authenticity of journalistic content has long been considered a potential application of the technology, but attempts to do it so far haven’t gotten much traction. If the New York Times can develop a compelling application, it has enough influence to change that….(More)”.

Blockchain and Public Record Keeping: Of Temples, Prisons, and the (Re)Configuration of Power


Paper by Victoria L. Lemieux: “This paper discusses blockchain technology as a public record keeping system, linking record keeping to power of authority, veneration (temples), and control (prisons) that configure and reconfigure social, economic, and political relations. It discusses blockchain technology as being constructed as a mechanism to counter institutions and social actors that currently hold power, but whom are nowadays often viewed with mistrust. It explores claims for blockchain as a record keeping force of resistance to those powers using an archival theoretic analytic lens. The paper evaluates claims that blockchain technology can support the creation and preservation of trustworthy records able to serve as alternative sources of evidence of rights, entitlements and actions with the potential to unseat the institutional power of the nation-state….(More)”.

The “Tokenization” of the eParticipation in Public Governance: An Opportunity to Hack Democracy


Chapter by Francisco Luis Benítez Martínez, María Visitación Hurtado Torres and Esteban Romero Frías: “Currently Distributed Ledger Technologies-DLTs, and especially the Blockchain technology, are an excellent opportunity for public institutions to transform the channels of citizen participation and reinvigorate democratic processes. These technologies permit the simplification of processes and make it possible to safely and securely manage the data stored in its records. This guarantees the transmission and public transparency of information, and thus leads to the development of a new citizen governance model by using technology such as a BaaS (Blockchain as a Service) platform. G-Cloud solutions would facilitate a faster deployment in the cities and provide scalability to foster the creation of Smart Citizens within the philosophy of Open Government. The development of an eParticipation model that can configure a tokenizable system of the actions and processes that citizens currently exercise in democratic environments is an opportunity to guarantee greater participation and thus manage more effective local democratic spaces. Therefore, a Blockchain solution in eDemocracy platforms is an exciting new opportunity to claim a new pattern of management amongst the agents that participate in the public sphere….(More)”.

The Blockchain Game: A great new tool for your classroom


IBM Blockchain Blog: “Blockchain technology can be a game-changer for accounting, supply chainbanking, contract law, and many other fields. But it will only be useful if lots and lots of non-technical managers and leaders trust and adopt it. And right now, just understanding what blockchain is, can be difficult to understand even for the brightest in these fields. Enter The Blockchain Game, a hands-on exercise that explains blockchain’s core principals, and serves as a launching pad for discussion of blockchain’s real-world applications.

In The Blockchain Game students act as nodes and miners on a blockchain network for storing student grades at a university. Participants record the grade and course information, and then “build the block” by calculating a unique identifier (a hash) to secure the grade ledger, and miners get rewarded for their work. As the game is played, the audience learns about hashes, private keys, and what uses are appropriate for a blockchain ledger.

Basics of the Game

  • A hands-on simulation centering around a blockchain for academic scores, including a discussion at the end of the simulation regarding if storing grades would be a good application for blockchain.
  • No computers. Participants are the computors and calculate blocks.
  • The game seeks to teach core concepts about a distributed ledger but can be modified to whichever use case the educator wishes to use — smart contracts, supply chain, applications and others.
  • Additional elements can be added if instructors want to facilitate the game on a computer….(More)”.

Unblocking the Bottlenecks and Making the Global Supply Chain Transparent: How Blockchain Technology Can Update Global Trade


Paper by Hanna C Norberg: “Blockchain technology is still in its infancy, but already it has begun to revolutionize global trade. Its lure is irresistible because of the simplicity with which it can replace the standard methods of documentation, smooth out logistics, increase transparency, speed up transactions, and ameliorate the planning and tracking of trade.

Blockchain essentially provides the supply chain with an unalterable ledger of verified transactions, and thus enables trust every step of the way through the trade process. Every stakeholder involved in that process – from producer to warehouse worker to shipper to financial institution to recipient at the final destination – can trust that the information contained in that indelible ledger is accurate. Fraud will no longer be an issue, middlemen can be eliminated, shipments tracked, quality control maintained to highest standards and consumers can make decisions based on more than the price. Blockchain dramatically reduces the amount of paperwork involved, along with the myriad of agents typically involved in the process, all of this resulting in soaring efficiencies. Making the most of this new technology, however, requires solid policy. Most people have only a vague idea of what blockchain is. There needs to be a basic understanding of what blockchain can and can’t do, and how it works in the economy and in trade. Once they become familiar with the technology, policy-makers must move on to thinking about what technological issues could be mitigated, solved or improved.

Governments need to explore blockchain’s potential through its use in public-sector projects that demonstrate its workings, its potential and its inevitable limitations. Although blockchain is not nearly as evolved now as the internet was in 2005, co-operation among all stakeholders on issues like taxonomy or policy guides on basic principles is crucial. Those stakeholders include government, industry, academia and civil society. All this must be done while keeping in mind the global nature of blockchain and that blockchain regulations need to be made in synch with regulations on other issues are adjacent to the technology, such as electronic signatures. However, work can be done in the global arena through international initiatives and organizations such as the ISO….(More)”.