Former Qantas executive raises $3.5 million for anti-slavery blockchain startup — inspired by her forced labour as a child in Somalia

Jamila Gordon, Lumachain. (image: supplied)
  • Australian SaaS company Lumachain has raised $3.5 million in a funding round led by the CSIRO-linked venture capital investor Main Sequence.
  • Lumachain’s founder Jamila Gordon previously held senior roles at Qantas and IBM after immigrating from her native Somalia in east Africa.
  • The company is helping businesses in the food supply chain ensure they are ethically sourcing produce following the introduction of new laws against modern slavery in Australia.

When Jamila Gordon was a five-year-old in Somalia she was forced to work instead of receiving an education — fast forward several decades, and she has just raised $3.5 million to grow a business she hopes will help in the fight against modern slavery.

Gordon — a former chief information officer at Qantas and senior executive at IBM — helms Lumachain, a software-as-a-service company with a big social purpose.

The company’s product uses blockchain technology to find and track items in the food supply chain which could be unethically sourced or the product of forced labour.

This function is not just good for society, but good for business, as it can help reduce waste, avoid recalls and — for companies with revenue of more than $100 million per year —ensure they stay compliant with the Modern Slavery Act introduced in Australia in 2018.

That might be part of the reason Gordon has been able to raise millions from private investors, including some heavy hitters like Main Sequence Ventures, which manages the CSIRO’s Innovation Fund.

“The way goods move within the supply chain is still very basic, which means there’s still a lot of waste, inefficiency and risk,” Gordon said in a statement announcing the successful funding round.

“With growing demand for better quality food products and ethical and transparent business processes, plus a rising middle class across Asia, we see tremendous opportunity to improve the productivity, security and safety of what we eat.”

Main Sequence partner Mike Zimmerman said in the same statement that “absolute trust, verification and efficiency” are needed in the global food supply chain and that Lumachain is “best positioned” to provide it to the industry.

The investment comes as businesses across all sectors are under pressure to ensure they are not profiting from forced labour or other forms of modern slavery.

Earlier in July, Australian retailers Cotton On, Target and Jeanswest announced they were investigating their own processes after an ABC Four Corners report found the companies were linked to factories in China where forced labour could be occurring.

Two brothers were jailed in the UK in January after being found guilty of breaching the country’s modern slavery laws for exploiting Polish workers in a warehouse owned by athletic wear retailer Sports Direct.

Companies in the food business might want to look to blockchain to avoid a similar fate.

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