Security, tracking, and crime prevention: Fighting crime, one block at the time

According to van Rijmenam and Ryan (2019), blockchain could be harnessed to prevent tax evasion and money laundering. The structure of blockchain technology, they argue, is based on trust; distributed consensus is the system’s major breakthrough in this regard, as every good or bad behaviour is marked as such within the network. At any given time, every node or participant in the ledger could observe every transaction, making it almost impossible to hide or manipulate them. Further, successful and trustworthy transactions generate a higher trustworthiness rating of the nodes in the ledger. Such a model could be enhanced by adding incentive for increased transparency in the network, by improving the rating of users willing to verify their real identity with the regulator (van Rijmenam and Ryan, 2019).

The technology could also assist in tackling crimes committed outside of blockchain networks. Precluding cyber-attacks is an obvious use of DLT as decentralised systems are generally safer than centralised ones5. Denial of service and other attacks outlined in Chapter 4 could also be discouraged by the amount of energy and time that goes into validating blocks. Another deterrent is the fact that, if attackers want to be successful, they must alter old blocks, which again requires a great deal of computing power (Draper and Romans, 2018; Chowdhury, 2019). Providing a secure solution for sensitive laboratories, drug manufacturing industries, nuclear power plants, and other critical infrastructure establishments via blockchain technology have already been initiated in many countries around the world.

Another area of application for blockchain and DLT is in ensuring and verifying identity of things and persons, and fair trade that guarantees that producers of goods are paid fairly, working conditions are up to the standard, and that consumers get the product of a certain quality and origins (van Rijmenam and Ryan, 2019). As such, blockchain has been hailed as a potential tool that can be deployed in preventing modern slavery and human trafficking. While trafficking emerged on the international agenda more than 20 years ago (Milivojevic and Pickering, 2013), the definition of trafficking has gradually expanded over time, only to be absorbed within the broader concept of modem slavery in the 2010s (Doezema, 2010; Segrave et al., 2018; Milivojevic et al., 2020b). Modern slavery is an umbrella term for exploitative practices, including slavery, forced labour, human trafficking, debt bondage, servitude, and forced marriage (for some critical accounts of the new modern slavery framework see Chuang, 2015; O’Connell Davidson, 2015; Gallagher, 2017; Milivojevic et al., 2020b). Calls to end slavery in supply chains, however, often neglect to address local conditions, both within the community and in the labour market, that facilitate exploitation and forced labour. This lack of vision is one of the key obstacles in countering trafficking and slavery, as

the emergence of labour brokers and subcontractors has created an environment that facilitated further lack of transparency beyond the first tier of suppliers, and an environment that is both hard to govern and investigate. The result has been low-skilled migrant workers, primarily (but not exclusively) from the Global South, being engaged in highly exploitative employment with little redress at the national level.

(Milivojevic et 2020

Therefore, a comprehensive approach to address the issue is critical, and scholars and practitioners often turn to technology to look for answers (although with mixed results - see Milivojevic et al., 2020b: and the Special Issue of the Anti-trafficking Review, 2020, no. 14). While seeking to avoid the long line of techno-optimists that argue technology alone could be an answer for the problem, and having in mind that conditions in which trafficking and other exploitative practices thrive should not be reduced to a single cause/solution narrative, the following section looks at blockchain’s promise in providing much-needed clarity and transparency for the globalised economy.

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