Experts at the firm say while doubts remain about the demonstrated "sustainability" of mined products producing better price outcomes, there is certainly evidence of increasing pressure on raw material producers to build greater environmental, social and governance (ESG) conformity into their business cases and also into their ‘brands'.
US investment bank Morgan Stanley says ESG funds, or funds with a partial ESG mandate, control about US$22.8 trillion of global investments.
"The current lack of clarity on who owns what is taking its toll on natural resource governance and is dampening investment in the mining sector by certain investor classes such as ESG funds," White & Case says.
"The common denominator underpinning stakeholder pressures is a fundamental request and need for accurate and robust information.
"How [are] raw materials mined, traded, blended, transported, manufactured or produced? Given the limited life cycle of many mineral end-uses (as with batteries, for example), how will these products be recycled?
"Such information has traditionally been difficult to obtain given that mining and metals supply chain operations are formed from vast, geographically diverse, multi-tiered and dynamic webs of disparate stakeholders."
The law firm's experts say mineral products are frequently physically indistinguishable and information about them can be variable, unreliable, disorganised or proprietary, "if it exists at all".
"There is an increasing demand for better solutions to source this information and, armed with it, to introduce better sustainability reporting and develop sustainable, legally compliant products.
"Because of its ability to improve transparency, traceability, accountability, integrity and efficiency through open, incorruptible data sharing, blockchain is being discussed as that solution."
White & Case says market research in the food, fashion and retail jewellery sectors - all piloting blockchain to some degree - suggests certain companies are capturing a premium on sustainably branded products such as organic cotton, fair-trade coffee, ethical seafood and conflict-free diamonds.
"In the mining and metals global supply chain, sustainability claims are starting to be shared more publicly with end consumers," the law firm says.
Among metals users, Fairphone's release of an ethical smartphone and Apple's public pledge to cut its use of rare earth minerals speaks to new forces shaping the basic materials supply landscape, if not pricing.
"We are approaching an era where technology can enable end-users to have a true ‘360-degree view' of products throughout their life cycle, a view that not only demonstrates that a product is conflict-free, but also a company's fidelity to - or at least its aspirations towards - the attendant health, safety and social issues associated with their operations, supply chains and end-products and services," White & Case says.
Firm partners Rebecca Campbell and Kirsti Massie say corporates are also beginning to see the profit and brand potential in emphasising the environmental and social attributes of goods and services, and "blockchain is the ideal technology to reveal the sustainability of the supply chain".