The Forms Of Blockchain – Slavefreetrade’s Use Case
We’ve been tangoing with blockchain for several years, and in our journey, we’ve learnt a lot about it. But why does blockchain matter to your business?
One of the major misapprehensions is about what forms blockchains can take. As you may know, there are many forms: open and closed, private and public, permissioned and permissionless. Most people hear about the public, open, permissionless chains, like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
A smaller group of people know about the larger private chains, like Hyperledger. And nobody hears anything about the rest, the closed private permissioned ones, for example. Partly because they operate primarily as an intranet for an organization, so why would we hear about them? But they exist in droves. The varieties extend well beyond what the average person reads about in the news.
Multiple Options Abound for Blockchain Use Case Form
From the moment you stick your toe in the blockchain waters, there are choices to be made all along the way about the form your use case demands. And you will never run short of opinions about what you should do. By all means, listen, but then decide for yourself not on the name or the reputation of what a particular evangelist is telling you.
All of the choices made about what form of blockchain you use depends on a multiplicity of factors. For us, a big one is identity management, and, in many ways, this is THE key determinant of what forms your blockchain will take. We have two competing needs, and sometimes conflicting needs, on the question of identity.
Anonymity is Key for Employees in the Supply Chain
In the employee-facing part of our work, anonymity is crucial. We need to know every employee of a company is whom they say they are. We must be able to verify them. We need to know where they are, what they do, and reconcile their identity with formal records. And we’re in direct contact with each of them in real-time. But, and this is the value of the zero-knowledge proof, a feature that blockchain can provide, we also must keep them anonymous in the system.
We ask employees questions about their working conditions based on our human rights framework. But their answers cannot betray their identity. So, in this part of our use case, anonymity is not just a good thing, but an essential thing.
Anonymity Negative for Businesses
In the employer-facing part of our work, however, where we chart and examine supply chains, anonymity is a bad thing. We want to know who all the participants are, and we need to know who they are. We cannot vouch for a workplace if we don’t know what or who it is. But the users of the system don’t want full transparency. Businesses do not want their entire supply chain or value chain laid bare to competitors.
Companies whose supply chains are monitored by us don’t want to share their business data with all the participants in our network. And they want to share some information with their business partners and consumers to demonstrate their commitment to human rights standards. They also need to share enough information to find out about others they can work with, identify new business partners, and be discovered by new business partners, and be discovered by new business partners.
Hyperledger Helps our Clients See What’s Going On
Our business clients want to control who sees what type of information under what circumstances, and we also want to control who can contribute that information onto the blockchain. So, we were unable to reconcile these competing needs on platforms like ether. Thus, we opted for Hyperledger Fabric, a private blockchain, where only our authorised personnel and the businesses inside can see what is going on the dataset of the client. This blockchain provides transparency, with limits. And minimal visibility to competitors.
Certain types of information, like scorecard results and verification status, are shared by the participants in one supply chain. Each business can see how the companies in their chain are performing. We do this because everyone in one supply chain has a vested interest in keeping their verification status. And to make sure everyone else does, so that they can sell their products to consumers bearing the ‘slave-free’ mark.
The Visibility of Businesses Doing Good is Mission Critical
Consumers can see the visibility of consumer-facing products, such as chocolate, the verification process outputs, and whether a product is slave-free. Shoppers can also see where the supply chain is, and the human rights performance of all actors in that chain. It’s a mission-critical part of what we do to be able to communicate to consumers the good that businesses do in their supply chain, and how all the actors in that supply chain are working together to promote the rights of their employees. So every participant in our chain wants to share some, but not all, of their macro-data, with selected audiences.
Choosing the Right Platform
Importantly, and happily, choosing the platform that worked best for our use case also took away the dangerous variability that came from ‘gas price’ per transaction. This variability was a big issue for us to consider; our clients need to know what the exact price is in our system, without the possibility of substantial increases and decreases in the price. And we certainly don’t want to sign up a client who won’t pay for that variation, as someone has to pay for it; it might be us. No good. We need the certainty of cost.
Different blockchain use cases will determine form and form will follow function. Still, public is not better or worse than private. Permissioned, not better or worse than permissionless. Open is not better or worse than closed.
Identity Management Needs: The First Step in Blockchain
So, if you are now, or soon, going to stick your toes in the blockchain water, one of the first places to start is to examine your identity management needs. The form you’ll eventually adopt depends 100% on your use case and, don’t forget, any solution can be a hybrid of these to suit your work. In our blockchain, which comprises only a useful small part of our overall platform, we need to know who all the participants are right from the beginning. But keep prying eyes from seeing – or altering – bits they shouldn’t.