This paper aims to investigate how blockchain has moved beyond cryptocurrencies and is being deployed to enhance visibility and trust in supply chains, their limitations and potential impact.
Qualitative analysis are undertaken via case studies drawn from food companies using semi-structured interviews.
Blockchain is demonstrated as an enabler of visibility in supply chains. Applications at scale are most likely for products where the end consumer is prepared to pay the premium currently required to fund the technology, e.g. baby food. Challenges remain in four areas: trust of the technology, human error and fraud at the boundaries, governance, consumer data access and willingness to pay.
The paper shows that blockchain can be utilised as part of a system generating visibility and trust in supply chains. Research directs academic attention to issues that remain to be addressed. The challenges pertaining to the technology itself we believe to be generalisable; those specific to the food industry may not hold elsewhere.
From live case studies, we provide empirical evidence that blockchain provides visibility of exchanges and reliable data in fully digitised supply chains. This provides provenance and guards against counterfeit goods. However, firms will need to work to gain consumer buy-in for the technology following repeated past claims of trustworthiness.
This paper provides primary evidence from blockchain use cases “in the wild”. The exploratory case studies examine application of blockchain for supply chain visibility.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the funding contributions of the Economic and Social Research Council (UK), grant reference ES/P000630/1, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (UK) to the Dynamic, Real time, On-demand Personalisation for Scaling (DROPS) [EP/R033374/1] and Control and Trust as Moderating Mechanisms in addressing Vulnerability for the Design of Business and Economic Models (ConTriVE) project [EP/N028422/1], which have contributed substantially to the research conducted and the writing of this paper. We further recognise the support from the British Academy Leverhulme “Blockchain for Good [B4G]” project grant SG160335 and from institutions Centre for Business, Organisations and Society at University of Bath School of Management, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) at the University of Cambridge, Centre of Digital Economy (CODE) at Surrey Business School, University of Surrey, and Bristol Business School, UWE.
The authors would like to thank Genia Mineeva, Leanne Melnyk, Maria Carrascosa, Alaa Ezz-al-Arab, Benn Lawson and Leonardo Ceron for their help and advice during the course of this research.
The authors would also like to acknowledge the contribution made by the two anonymous reviewers, who encouraged significant improvements in the paper, and our interviewees, whose openness to research we appreciate.
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