Harvard, Levi Strauss, U.S. think tank in blockchain tie-up on worker welfare

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Harvard University’s public health graduate school, U.S. think-tank New America, and American apparel company Levi Strauss & Co announced on Thursday a collaboration to develop a blockhain-based system designed to augment outside auditors of factory health and safety with self-reporting by workers.

FILE PHOTO: The label of a Levi's denim jacket of U.S. company Levi Strauss is photographed at a denim store in Frankfurt, Germany, March 20, 2016. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

Three factories in Mexico producing goods for Levi Strauss and employing 5,000 workers will be the first to use the blockchain-powered survey in 2019.

Blockchain, which first emerged as the system powering bitcoin, is a shared database maintained by a network of computers connected to the internet.

New York-based Consensys will provide the project’s blockchain solution.

Essentially, the plan is to put an annual worker survey on the blockchain in what the participants called a crucial first step in transparent evaluation of working conditions in factories.

The project is funded through a grant from the U.S. State Department.

“Providing a secure, standardized, auditable, and transparent platform through which worker survey data can be aggregated and analyzed will be possible with this solution,” said Tomicah Tillemann, founder of the Blockchain Trust Accelerator (BTA) at New America in a statement.

The blockchain-based survey will use an index developed by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University’s public health graduate school.

“What this means is that the results will never be manipulated,” Allison Price, BTA executive director, told Reuters in an interview.

“For the last 25 years, work in supply chains has been monitored mainly by audits,” said Dr. Eileen McNeely, director of Harvard T.H. Chan’s Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise.

McNeely said this system alone is not effective.

“A distributed system of inquiry on the blockchain that goes right to the source (workers) offers a new solution,” she added.

The project’s first pilot will be tested in factories in Mexico in the second quarter of 2019, with another pilot slated in 2020.

(This story corrects first paragraph to read “augment” instead of “replace”.)

Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by David Gregorio