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商业 - 科技

区块链技术能消灭童工现象?在这个行业有可能实现

Vivienne Walt 2019年01月23日

少数几家公司试图使用区块链来跟踪和监控其钴矿的开采和销售过程。

6个月前,我与摄影师塞巴斯蒂安·梅尔一道来到了刚果民主共和国,撰写了一篇有关数千名少年儿童挖钴矿的报道,他们每天工作14个小时,薪酬仅有数美元。钴是一种非常重要的矿物质,存在于每一部手机、电动汽车和计算机之中。这一场景令人感到心碎。生活在极度贫困之中的儿童一直都在为巨型科技和汽车行业提供服务,但可以确定的是,这些孩子一辈子都买不起这些公司生产的产品。

如今,少数几家公司拿出了一个可行的方案:使用区块链来跟踪和监控其钴矿的开采和销售过程。福特汽车公司、韩国电池生产商巨头LG Chem、中国华友钴业以及总部位于伦敦的负责任供应链的公司RCS Global于上本周宣布,它们将联合打造首个区块链分布式平台,以覆盖钴的整个生产环节。IBM将为其提供技术支持。

该组织称,区块链中上载信息不可变的标识将允许公司监控和评估生产的所有过程,自钴矿从刚果南部偏远地区(全球大部分钴矿储量都集中在这一地区)地下开采出来的那一刻起,一直到亚洲的熔炼厂和精炼厂以及最终的全球交易市场。RCS Global的首席执行官尼古拉斯·加勒特对我说:“我们关注的风险涵盖运营健康和安全、暴乱资助和童工。”按照新区块链系统的要求,每一家公司都将报告其流程阶段。他说:“每一个参与者都会按照负责任实践对自身进行评估。”此举的初衷在于扩大区块链规模,从而允许更多的采矿和冶炼公司加入这一平台。

任何未能满足这一尽职调查标准的公司将被赶出平台。对于加入区块链的公司,平台为其提供的奖励包括:继续开采刚果巨大的资源;可继续对外界声称公司遵循道德的业务规范。福特公司的全球采购和动力系统运营业务副总裁丽莎·德雷克称:“我们依然非常重视全球供应链的透明度。”福特最近宣布,公司未来几年将在电动汽车生产领域投资110亿美元。德雷克称,区块链“将有助于公司履行保护人权和环境的承诺。”

区块链技术真的能做到这一点吗?

我们对刚果的报道显示,刚果钴矿开采业务多年来一直充斥着人权侵犯和腐败,而且暴力冲突事件在刚果这个辽阔的中非国家也是时有发生。

鉴此,新区块链项目的实际效果可能与这些公司的宣传内容有一定的出入。该项目最初只设立了一个试点,即位于刚果南部省份鲁瓦拉巴的Luswishi Industrial Mine公司,后者使用机器技术来开采钴矿。因此,该动议(如今)并未覆盖人工采矿,而工业分析师认为,人工挖矿占钴矿生产的约20%,同时,这一部分公司仍在雇佣童工挖矿,而且我们去年在刚果便见到过,例如11岁的丹尼尔和15岁的卢卡萨。

起草了采矿业行为规范的巴黎经合组织矿产供应链法律顾问拉夏德·阿贝尔森表示:“可追溯性并非是最终目标,只是实现目标的一种手段。”他说:“当前的一个风险在于,众多公司都将区块链技术看成是一种能够解决一切问题的万能药。”

几乎可以确定的是,只要条件允许,像丹尼尔和卢卡萨这样的儿童还将继续长时间地挖矿,因为童工问题的根源——赤贫以及缺乏教育和工作机会——依然没有得到解决。

即便撇开童工问题不谈,这里还存在着其他问题:我们在村庄、钴矿市场和钴矿中看到,矿场没有什么精力来约束工人的工作习惯。在华友运营的卡苏罗钴矿,我们看到数百矿工拿着手工工具挖矿,而且并未穿戴保护手套或安全帽。然而,这是刚果当地省政府官员主动向我们展示的案例,而且还是作为良好采矿实践的典范。

阿贝尔森担心,刚果这种贫乏的环境可能会导致不良的信息被上载至新区块链平台,因为有些地区文化水平低下,基本没有软件技术经验,而且有些地区甚至还未接入互联网。此外,人们难以判断区块链上数据的真假。他说:“我们还没有完全弄清楚,这一技术如何解决外界欺诈信息的验证问题。”

解决钴矿生产过程中的非法劳工和腐败问题存在很高的风险。伦敦钴矿交易公司Darton Commodities公司称,由于人们更多地采用电动汽车来取代化石燃料车型,全球对钴矿的需求到2030年将增加700%。

如今的问题在于,世界工业是否能够在采用绿色科技的同时依然坚持道德标准。(财富中文网)

译者:冯丰

审校:夏林

Six months ago, I traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo with photographer Sebastian Meyer and revealed how thousands of young children were working 14-hour days digging cobalt—an essential mineral found in every one of our mobile phones, electric vehicles, and computers—for just a few dollars a day. The scene was heart-breaking. Children living in desperate poverty were servicing giant tech and auto industries, whose products they would surely never be able to own in their lives.

Now a few companies have seized on a possible solution: Using blockchain to track and monitor how their cobalt is mined and marketed. Ford Motor Company; the Korean battery-manufacturing giant LG Chem; China’s Huayou Cobalt; and RCS Global, a London-based organization for responsible supply chains, announced last week that they will jointly create the first blockchain distributed platform to encompass the entire production cycle for cobalt. IBM will power the technology.

The group claims that the immutable identity of the information uploaded on to the blockchain will allow it to monitor and assess every step of production, from the moment cobalt is dug out of the ground in remote southern Congo—where most of the world’s cobalt reserves lie—to the smelters and refineries in Asia, and finally the global trading market. “The risks we are looking for are operational health and safety, conflict financing, and child labor,” Nicholas Garrett, CEO of RCS Global, tells me. Under the new blockchain system, each entity will report its stage of the process. “Each player assesses for responsible practices,” he says. The idea is to scale up the blockchain, allowing more and more mining and refining companies to join the platform.

Any company failing to meet due-diligence standards will be ejected from the platform. The incentive for companies joining the blockchain is to keep extracting Congo’s huge resources, while still claiming to the world that they are following ethical business practices. “We remain committed to transparency across our global supply chain,” says Ford’s vice president for global purchasing and powertrain operations Lisa Drake; the company recently announced it is investing $11 billion on EVproduction over the next few years. Drake says the blockchain “will help meet our commitment to protecting human rights and the environment.”

But will it really do that?

As our reporting in DRC showed, cobalt mining in Congo has been riddled with human-rights violations and corruption for years, and operates in a vast Central African country beset by violent conflict.

Given that, the new blockchain project might deliver fewer results than the companies claim. It is beginning with just one pilot site, Luswishi Industrial Mine in DRC’s southern province of Lualaba, which uses machine techniques to extract cobalt. As such, the initiative does not (for now) tackle artisanal mines, which industry analysts believe account for about 20% of cobalt production, and which continue employing the child miners we met in the DRC last year, like 11-year-old Daniel and 15-year-old Lukasa.

“Traceability is not the final objective, it is just a means to an end,” says Rashad Abelson, legal advisor on mineral supply chains for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, which has drafted codes of conduct for the industry. “There’s a risk that companies could treat blockchain technology as a panacea that is going to solve all the problems,” he says.

Children like Daniel and Lukasa will almost certainly continue digging for cobalt as long as they can, since the root causes of child labor remain: Deep poverty, and a lack of education and job opportunities.

Even leaving aside child labor, there are other problems too: As we saw in the villages, cobalt markets and mines we visited, there are few resources to scrutinize people’s work habits. In the Kasulo mine, which is operated by Huayou, we watched hundreds of men digging cobalt with manual tools, and with no protective gloves or hard hats. And that was the site Congo’s local provincial officials wanted us to see, as an example of good mining practices.

Abelson fears that the bare-bones conditions in Congo could also lead to bad information being uploaded on to the new blockchain platform, in areas where there is low literacy, and almost no experience of software technology; in some areas, there is not even Internet access. In addition, there will be few ways to know whether the data on the blockchain is true or false. “It is not yet totally clear how this technology would resolve the issue of validating information that is fraudulent from the outset,” he says.

The stakes for fixing the labor violations and corruption in cobalt production are high indeed. As people increasingly choose electric vehicles over fossil-fuel models, global demand for cobalt could increase 700% by 2030, according to the cobalt-trading company Darton Commodities in London.

The question now is whether the world can embrace green technology, and still adhere to ethical standards.

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