Engadget: Technology is failing to create transparent supply chains

“Improvements in technology at the local level have been instrumental in communities’ ability to participate in the protection of their forests,” said Emma Lierley, Forest Communications Manager with Rainforest Action Network. “And improvements in this area could be of great benefit.”

But RAN does not expect technology itself to be the solution. It has been working on supply-chain issues since its inception, and it focuses on both environmental degradation and human rights violations in tropical-forest regions. To RAN, the idea that multinational corporations lack knowledge about what’s really happening in their supply chains when it can find out and publish verifiable reports is incredulous.

“Time and time again we have seen companies use new tools and technology to further obfuscate the issue rather than to truly take responsibility for the conflicts in their supply chain,” said Lierley. For example, shipping data on who is buying and selling palm oil could illuminate how supply chains connect to labor violations widely documented in Southeast Asia, but it is prohibitively expensive and often inaccessible to third parties like NGOs or journalists. Similarly, access to mapping data about land ownership could allow NGOs to connect illegal deforestation and fire to global companies, but the data remains under lock in Indonesian government and corporate databases.

“The lack of transparency in palm oil supply chains comes down to a lack of willpower, not a lack of tools,” said Lierley.”

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