Jaguar Land Rover invests in blockchain for sustainable materials sourcing

Electric vehicles are seen as a key part of the transport sector's low-carbon emissions

Called Circulor, the blockchain platform uses a combination of GPS, biometrics and QR codes to create a tamper-proof trail of audit for raw materials. The platform tracks compliance with environmental and social regulation and company pledges in these fields, while also calculating the carbon footprint of the materials.

In JLR’s case, the technology will be embedded in supply chains for the metals and minerals used to manufacture electric vehicle (EV) batteries, including cobalt.

For all the good it can play in decarbonising transport, cobalt is not an inherently sustainable material. Almost two-thirds of the world’s cobalt is currently sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and, as such, is classed as a conflict material.  Moreover, researchers estimate that more than 13,000 children are forced to work in the cobalt sector in the DRC, and have repeatedly pointed to unsafe working conditions and illegally low rates of pay.  A high-profile lawsuit at present revolves around 13 Congolese families with members who were killed or injured while mining for cobalt.

JLR has not disclosed how much its InMotion Ventures arm has invested in Circulor, or when materials traced using the platform will be added to vehicles.

It said, however, that Circulor will enable it to assess supplier’s compliance with regulators, as well as how they are upholding human rights, and whether they are helping or hindering JLR’s progress towards its sustainability goals.

“The implementation of blockchain technology provides a great opportunity to make a systemic change in supply chain compliance, not just for the automotive world but for other industries, too,” InMotion Ventures’ managing director Sebastian Peck said.

 “This investment is further evidence of JLR’s commitment to improving the sustainability of its supply chain around the globe, and will help authentically trace raw materials from origin to supplier, eventually to vehicle.”

JLR’s ‘Destination Zero’ business and sustainability strategy notably envisions a world with no transport emissions, no automotive accidents and no congestion.

A boost for blockchain

PwC has highlighted blockchain as one of the ‘essential eight’ technologies that will play a crucial role in tackling climate issues and the technology as has also been heralded as a transformative way to digitally track supply chain activity by techUK.

While case studies in which big businesses have applied blockchain to entire supply chains remain rare, many firms with supply chains that bear high human rights risks are piloting or expanding blockchain in a drive to improve transparency.

Earlier this year, Princes introduced QR codes to its tanned tomatoes and tuna, which provide information from its blockchain and GPS mapping programmes when scanned. The process is similar to that being implemented by brands like Ben & JerrysSainsbury’s and Unilever-owned PG Tips.

The likes of AB InBev and the Estee Lauder Companies have also made major blockchain announcements in 2020. The former has pledged to bring beer made using blockchain-traced barley to stores in the EU in early 2021, while the latter is working with ingredient supplier LMR Naturals by IFF and one of its Madagascan vanilla suppliers Biovanilla, as well as blockchain scale-up Wholechain, to introduce traceable vanilla to more than 100 Aveda-brand products.

Sarah George

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