Researchers explore tracing technology

A team of researchers is developing technology to tag products with information about their production history to help consumers decide whether social and environmental claims on goods are genuine.

The Fair Tracing Project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and set up by the University of Bradford, University of Cambridge and University College London.

It is studying how shoppers can use a web interface or devices such as mobile phones to access product barcodes containing "information rich" material from home or in stores.

"Our intention is to use technology to make value chains more transparent, we want to give producers and consumers an overview of the supply chain," said project manager Dorothea Kleine. "It could be used to help reassure consumers that Fairtrade or eco-friendliness claims are genuine."

At each point in the supply chain, products would be tagged with information relevant to that product such as the price structure along the value chain, its origins and environmental impacts.

Work is already under way with coffee growers in India and Fairtrade wine producers in Chile.

The project runs until October 2008, after which the team hopes to test it with a not-for-profit or commercial partner.

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