As sweeping statements go, there’s none more frequently quoted — or truer — than this: consumers care more than ever before.
At ground zero of this conscious consumerism is provenance; the idea that where something has come from matters, as does how it reaches its final destination. From worker welfare to environmental impact, provenance reveals the unseen people, practices, and processes behind the products that we purchase.
Provenance’s twin, transparency — characterized by an internal culture (and external communication) of complete openness — is the foundation of trust. Ninety-four percent of consumers are more likely to be loyal to a brand that is transparent about its product information, and 73% are prepared to pay more for complete transparency.
Yet transparency isn’t always something that ‘bad’ companies ignore while ‘good’ companies provide. Business is rarely so black and white, and the complex nature of global supply chains means there are often unintended human and environmental consequences. Deloitte Global found that only 6% of procurement departments had total traceability from beginning to end; and not even Patagonia is immune to supply chain blind spots.
Blockchain, the transformative technology behind the next fintech revolution, could change all that.
With applications extending well beyond banking, the Blockchain for Good movement explores how it can be used to create a fairer — and more transparent — world for all.
Startups including OwlTing — founded by former Google engineer Darren Wang — and the aptly named UK founded Provenance, are two of the world’s first blockchain-for-good-based apps. Blockchain technology is already being used to help companies track — and customers to trace — the provenance of their materials and products; whether it’s a cotton field in Haiti to high-street clothes store or a fisherman in Fiji to supermarket shelf.
Social media, too, has enabled brands to express their provenance with ultimate transparency. Industry-wide campaigns such as Fashion Revolution’s#imadeyourclothes answer a growing customer need to know not only where, but by whom — and under what conditions — their garments were made.
For every two steps forward, there is usually one (high-profile) step back. Sustainability scandals continue to affect even those brands ranked highly in industry transparency indexes. In the fashion world, Zara and H&M have recently been caught out purchasing viscose from environmentally questionable local suppliers.
Nevertheless, the days of supply chains shrouded in secrecy are drawing to a close, and ignorance — whether genuine or deliberate — can no longer be an excuse.
Provenance is here to stay, and transparency is just the beginning of a future in which every business, in every industry — from fashion to football* — is held to account for their environmental and social impact.
*I could hardly write this post without at least a nod to the forthcoming 2018 World Cup. While neither FIFA nor Russia are especially well known for their transparency, one can only hope that the workers tasked with producing an expected 10 million World Cup footballs this year in Sialkot, Pakistan (where 70% of the world’s footballs are made) have been treated as fairly as the Fair Trade protected workers who made the footballs for the 2016 Homeless World Cup.
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