Where Does the Chain of Custody Begin?

Here follows an article, published by Dr. James Giermanski, an internationally renowned expert in container and supply chain security, international transportation and trade issues. It deals with a crucial but mostly forgotten/unknown aspect of international supply chains – who packed the cargo?

Tracking, tracing, and custody are all generally accepted concepts involving the control of movement. All these concepts have in their fundamental cognitive structure the idea of path, corridor, multiple parts, flow, and coordination.

However, what is often omitted or overlooked is the fundamental sine qua non core principle of “beginning”. What is the beginning of a chain of custody? This article focuses on this core concept and the role it plays as the beginning of the connective custody and control process. Specifically, it addresses the significance of cargo stuffing, the concept of authorized or trusted agent, the means of connectivity, the legal role of the authorized agent, and the consequences of a connected and visible supply chain.

Cargo stuffing

Establishing and maintaining cargo integrity begins with stuffing the container at origin. A chain of custody – chronological documentation or paper trail – involves “the movement and location of physical evidence from the time it is obtained until the time it is presented in court.” As in a criminal case comparison, a supply chain “chain of custody” needs three types of essential assertions:

  1. That the cargo is what it purports to be and in the quantity stated;
  2. That the cargo was in the continuous possession or control by the carrier who took charge of the cargo from the time it was loaded in the container at origin until the time it is delivered at final destination; and
  3. That there is evidence of the identify of each person or entity who had access to it during its movement, and that the cargo remained in the same condition from the moment it was sealed in the container for transfer to the carrier that controlled possession until the moment it released the cargo into the receipted custody of another.
Trusted partner

It is imperative that the initial point of a connectivity process begins at the beginning! Loading cannot take place without a human agent. The agent could be the company’s forklift driver, the dispatcher, the loading dock supervisor, or even an authorizing manager who has a specific duty to verify the cargo and its quantity. It could even be a third party hired by the shipper, for instance, companies that currently provide inspection services around the world.

Various Customs programs discuss, in one way or the other, the concept that supply chain security begins at “stuffing”: the Secure Export Scheme Program (New Zealand); the Partners in Protection Program (Canada); the Golden List Program (Jordan); the Authorized Economic Operator Program (Japan); the Authorized Economic Operator Program (Korea); the Secure Trade Partnership Plus Program (Singapore); and the Authorized Economic Operator.

Establishing ‘connectivity’

Maintaining connectivity depends on the security program, software and hardware utilized. While no system is 100% effective, and one cannot depend on technology alone, there are ‘off-the-shelf’ container security devices (CSDs) that provide connectivity through a sophisticated, comprehensive chain of custody system that begins with loading the container at origin, monitoring it, and reporting on its integrity at the end of the global supply chain path, i.e. at final destination.

CSDs can include the identity of the trusted agent verifying the cargo at loading and the agent’s counterpart at destination. Both parties are electronically connected by a unique identifier to the smart container system along with bill of lading or booking information, or data needed by Customs authorities. Therefore, when the CSD is activated, the accountable party becomes the initiating element in the smart container security system.

Consequences of chain of custody – standards, laws and litigation

If a smart container is opened at destination by an equally accountable person and cargo is missing, and there were no breaches detected, recorded or reported, the accountable person at origin can face either disciplinary, or worse, criminal action by appropriate authorities.

This ESI becomes a source of evidence, should legal action follow. The concept of custody and control from origin to destination also supports Incoterms 2010, a publication of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) which provides the playbook of international rules involving international sales of goods. These new terms now contain security requirements for the shipper, making a chain of custody system essential for compliance. There are also changes coming for shippers, consignees, and vessel carriers with respect to carriage of goods by sea: the new Rotterdam Rules.

According to the UN General Assembly, the Rotterdam Rules are a “…uniform and modern global legal regime governing the rights and obligations of stakeholders in the maritime transport industry under a single contract for door-to-door carriage” (cf. American Shipper). The new door-to-door liability places the vessel carrier directly in a chain of custody. Instead of the vessel carrier filing what the shipper said is in the container, the vessel carrier will be automatically and really responsible for knowing what is in the container.

What are the benefits?

The shipper, the consignee, the carrier, and control and regulatory authorities all benefit from a chain of custody system that begins with the loading of the container at origin. CSDs incorporating the identity of the trusted agent at stuffing would assist law enforcement officials to comply with international security and trade standards, solve transhipment problems, impair illegal access to the cargo conveyance, improve supply chain efficiencies, aid in securing hazardous materials and other dangerous cargo movement, reduce counterfeiting, eliminate the in-bond problem of unauthorized container access, and improve bottom line revenue generation for the firms using them. Source: Supply Chain Digest.

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Having difficulty understanding economic zones?

You can be forgiven if you have a clouded understanding of what an economic zone is. Countries develop different types of free economic zones (FEZs) as a tool to generate employment opportunities, promote and diversify exports, increase technology transfer and attract investment flows. Developing and emerging economies use FEZs as “economic laboratories”, “incubators” or showcases of a generally strong enabling environment and a competitive market for investment. In order to achieve the intended objectives of zones, governments offer a range of incentives from fiscal to regulatory such as export duty exemptions, streamlined customs and administrative controls and procedures, liberal foreign exchange policies and income tax incentives. Governments have been experimenting with the use of policy tools in ensuring the effectiveness of their zones; however they have not always been successful. Nowadays, governments are trying to move away from the traditional zones with the traditional set of objectives and policy tools to either more comprehensive or sector specific zones. In addition, they are trying to incorporate other development policy instruments to their policy packages to tackle other issues such as skills development, rural development and green growth while achieving the traditional objectives.

The first type of FEZs mostly took the form of free ports – customs free areas within seaports offering little more than warehousing and trade facilities. Over time, some free ports developed into customs-free zones in which light manufacturing and other processing took place. The next step was the development of export processing zones, which encourage more complicated manufacturing operations with the purpose of exporting. Later, special economic zones (SEZs) and specialized zones (SZs) evolved. SEZs offer a wider array of sectors including manufacturing and services that target both foreign and domestic markets. In addition, they permit on-site residence and provide all facilities to employees and hence could be viewed as standalone cities. On the other hand, specialized zones (SZs) focus on specific industries by providing the appropriate infrastructure and building on the concepts of clusters.

The terminology applied to free economic zones, in literature and common usage, is highly confusing. Words like “free zones”, “free trade zones”, “customs-free zones”, “special economic zones”, “export processing zones”, etc. are in practice used almost interchangeably. This reflects the implementing authorities’ linguistic preferences as much as functional differences between different kinds of zones.

Common to most FEZs is the fact that they are ring-fenced enclaves (with the exception of Single Factory/Private EPZs) that enjoy special regulatory, incentive and institutional frameworks that are different from the rest of the economy. The different classifications of FEZs are as follows:

  1. Free trade zones (FTZs; also known as commercial free zones): are fenced-in, duty-free areas, offering warehousing, storage, and distribution facilities for trade, trans-shipment, and re-export operations.
  2. Export processing zones (EPZs): are industrial estates aimed primarily at attracting export-oriented investments. They cover usually a wide array of manufacturing industries.
  3. Private zones/Single factory processing zones: provide incentives to individual enterprises regardless of location.
  4. Special economic zones (SEZs): are larger estates and could be considered cities on their own. They usually cover all industrial and service sectors and target both foreign and domestic markets. They provide an array of incentives ranging from tax incentives to regulatory incentives. In addition, they permit on-site residence.
  5. Specialized zones (SZs): targeted at specific sectors or economic activities. Examples of SZs include science/technology parks, petrochemical zones, logistics parks, airport-based zones, and so on. They may restrict the access of companies in non-priority sectors, and their infrastructure is mostly tailored according to their sectoral targets.

The distinction between the different kinds of zones must involve an element of judgment and sometimes zones fall in between categories. South Africa’s Industrial Development Zones (IDZs) combine elements of both 1 and 2 above. Most free zones restrict the access of certain categories of investors, without necessarily being classified as specialized zones. Also, it is not very clear how “special” a free zone’s regulatory environment must be before it can be classified as a SEZ. FEZs in their general definition can include a combination of characteristics from all the previously identified FEZs. I guess that while you still dont have a clear understanding of what an economic zone is, I hope the above has shed a little more light on the subject?