The Electronic Bill of Lading: Challenges of Paperless Trade

Subject: Logistics
Pages: 2
Words: 580
Reading time:
3 min

The bill of lading, used in sea freight transportation, is a document that proves that the goods are being delivered in the described way, to the agreed destination, and to the consignee (Wunderlich et al., 2020). This record is essential to international trade since it designates risks and obligations between “the shipowner (or carrier) and the charterer (or shipper)” (Plomaritou et al., 2019). In today’s highly globalized world, it is almost impossible to imagine a day where we as consumers do not make use of international trade. It is virtually inevitable that a lot of the food we consume would not have been grown anywhere near where we bought it – especially when seasonal fruits and vegetables are concerned. Even more so, the technology that we use is designed in one part of the world and produced in another, making international trade essential to our daily lives. Following legal documents in the trading practices, such as the bill of lading, is vital to an efficient and beneficial contract.

The bill of lading has been in use since Roman times, in one form or another – it allowed merchants not to follow their goods to every intended destination, allowing for an expansion of their business (Plomaritou et al., 2019). However, unsurprisingly, the document used today presents a couple of differences from the previous versions. While the document used today is still paper-based, numerous attempts have been made to digitalize it (Wunderlich et al., 2020). Wunderlich talks about the importance of the sea freight documents since sea trade accounts for a large portion of international trade (2020). There are several other legal documents required for the operation, but the bill of lading is specifically crucial since it also allows for the ownership of the goods to be transferred (Wunderlich et al., 2020).

The FTC, or the Federal Trade Commission, is a “bipartisan federal agency” with the binary aim to “protect consumers and promote competition” (FTC, 2020). Particularly, FTC strives to preserve the rights of the consumers by not only investigating dishonest practices but by educating both businesses and consumers on their rights and responsibilities. Furthermore, FTC encourages competition in the marketplace by implementing antitrust laws and disputing anticompetitive practices. FTC attempts to maintain a vibrant marketplace that benefits both the consumers and the suppliers by keeping the prices low and the choice and quality of goods and services offered sufficient (FTC, 2020). Since FTC acts as a sort of a detective and policing force in the marketplace, in some situations, the commission must issue a cease and desist to stop illegal activity. If the offender does not comply with the standards issued by the FTC, the commission may collect penalties. All of the disputes are considered through adjudication, and the legal decision determines the further actions of the commission. The commission is authorized to act based on a reasonable belief of FTC law violations by “seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions” (FTC, 2019). While further action needs a decision from the federal judge, preliminary measures can sometimes be enough to solve the problem.

Furthermore, the risk of being penalized by the FTC might itself be enough to prevent some businesses from acting in unethical ways to their consumers. Moreover, in some cases, the FTC can “obtain permanent injunctive relief” (FTC, 2019). Keeping the marketplace a fair and ordered place is essential to us as consumers, as it prevents monopolization of the suppliers, which would mean they could set any prices they wanted to.


Wunderlich S., Saive D. (2020). The Electronic Bill of Lading: Challenges of Paperless Trade. In Prieto J., Das A., Ferretti S., Pinto A., Corchado J. (Eds), BLOCKCHAIN 2019: Blockchain and Applications. (pp. 93-100). Springer, Cham.

Plomaritou, E., Voudouris, Y. (2019). The Relationships of Bill of Lading, Charterparty and Other Transport Documents. Journal of Economics, Management and Trade, 24(6), 1-8. Web.

Federal Trade Commission. (2019). A Brief Overview of the Federal Trade Commission’s Investigative, Law Enforcement, and Rulemaking Authority. Web.

Federal Trade Commission. (2020). What We Do. Web.