• The US Government is seeking proposals for the use of blockchain technology to promote worker rights and responsible business.
  • Open until April 2018, companies can win funding of up to US$500,000.
Blockchain is a public distributed ledger that records transactions in a verifiable and permanent way

Blockchain is a public distributed ledger that records transactions in a verifiable and permanent way

The US Government is looking to leverage the use of blockchain technology to address worker rights challenges across all industries globally with the launch of a competition for funding.

Launched by the US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), companies are being encouraged to apply for the US$500,000 grant to fund research into how a public blockchain's distributed ledger can be leveraged to prevent employers from exploiting vulnerable workers through underpayment, the withholding of identity documents, and other similar human rights violations.

Open until April 2018, proposals should promote worker rights and responsible business by partnering with a private sector entity. Projects might also coordinate and engage with multilateral efforts related to the use of blockchain to solve social challenges, the Department says.

Blockchain, a public distributed ledger that records transactions in a verifiable and permanent way, is a relatively new technology that governments, international organisations, and businesses are increasingly exploring to solve a range of social and political problems. However, its potential to solve intractable human right challenges remains largely unexplored.

"Projects should aim to have impact that leads to democratic reforms, and should have the potential for sustainability beyond DRL resources," the Department explains. "DRL's preference is to avoid duplicating past efforts by supporting new and creative approaches. This does not exclude from consideration projects that improve upon or expand existing successful projects in a new and complementary way. DRL also strives to ensure its projects advance the rights and uphold the dignity of the most vulnerable or at-risk populations."

DRL says it is seeking proposals with programme activities that will raise awareness among government, donors, developers, companies, and civil society about the potential for blockchain technology to solve worker rights challenges, and publicly disseminate findings on promising practices in utilising blockchain to address these.

The move follows a similar one by the State Department last year when it launched blockchain working group Blockchain@State, and enlisted student interns to assist with the project.