Seafood traceability company Trace Register has won a $250,000 award in a contest held by San Francisco-based Humanity United in conjunction with a number of public agencies. The competition was entitled “Rethink Supply Chains: The Tech Challenge to Fight Labor Trafficking.” Along with the human rights consulting firm Sustainability Incubator, Trace Register created a platform that can help seafood companies determine whether their suppliers are engaging in slave labor or other human rights violations.
Founded in 2005, the company’s software allows buyers to differentiate between the many products they may source, and to connect with the supplier at the point of purchase and consumption. It operates using three platforms: digital traceability, data integration, and data check & analytics.
It also helps companies in the marketing of their products to consumers and raising awareness about transparency in sourcing. The traceability feature offers data management, real-time information about product location and handling, and helps cut down on food recalls as well as margins, the company says.
Now, Trace Register lists clients across 40 different countries supported by service teams in the Americas as well as throughout Asia.
Whole Foods Market is one of Trace Register’s current clients, using the platform to oversee quality control and evaluate sustainability. The platform prompts buyers to ask key questions – such as the supplier’s migrant labor practices and recruiting efforts — before entering purchase agreements. The platform then performs a cross-check to see whether the answers match up. The database taps a number of resources including NGOs, non-profits, and public government databases.
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Human rights violations in the food production supply chain are rampant. According to the International Labor Organization, some 19 million people are subjected to forced labor and slavery around the globe, yielding some $150 billion in profits for the companies that engage in these illegal slaving operations.
To combat the pervasive use of slavery, the Obama administration in February 2016 took up efforts to use a 1930s Tariff Act to provide import agents with greater authority to confiscate goods that were yielded using slave labor, even if based on a suspicion. And Obama signed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, which also enhanced border control over the importation of slave-produced goods and products.
In 2010, California imposed a law requiring buyers to be transparent about the efforts they’re taking to remove slavery from their supply chains. In 2015, however, a study revealed that half of the companies subject to the law weren’t doing their part.
Trace Register is not the first startup to target traceability and transparency in the seafood production industry. In recent years, a patchwork of companies has emerged to address various deficiencies in the system. The lack of good record-keeping and documentation that has permeated the global seafood industry has posed a serious hurdle to some of these companies. Now, technologies range from TRUfish’s DNA testing to vet fish labeling and classification after processing to seafood tracking software provided by ThisFish.
The business competition Fish 2.0 has even shed some light on funneling technological innovation into the seafood industry. At last year’s event, a recurring themes included the vast ocean of opportunity that awaits innovators and entrepreneurs in this segment and the serious demand bubbling up among consumers for ethically sourced products.