Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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French factories might introduce ‘dog collars’ to keep workers physically distanced

The collars or belts with which the management of Essity wants to equip its workforce would emit a noise or a signal if two workers come too close together.
Fri Jan 15, 2021 - 4:12 pm EST
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Social distancing devices, also referred to as dog collars Phi Data / YouTube

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January 15, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Swedish hygiene products company Essity has sparked widespread criticism in France for having planned to equip its workers with collars or belts that would ring if they are too near to each other, in an effort aimed at avoiding COVID-19 infections. The plan was touted as a way to “reinforce the safety of collaborators” by limiting “transmission of the virus as much as possible.”

Essity, which specializes in products such as diapers, toilet paper, make-up remover cotton pads, compression stockings and other paramedical goods, has units in over 100 countries, with eight factories and over 2,800 employees in France alone. All of these would be concerned by the measure. Its initiative garnered a great deal of attention in major media outlets, while commentators on social media angrily described the “social distancing devices” as dog collars.

The socialist trade union CFDT compared the collars to “a system used to dissuade dogs from barking,” and slammed the “infantilization” the device would entail.

Special collars are indeed used to stop dogs from barking, using an electric impulse. The collars or belts with which the management of Essity wants to equip its workforce would emit a noise or a signal if two workers come too close together.

According to Mark Specque, communications director of Essity for Southern Europe, the company has opted for a vibration sign in case of non-compliance with the 2-meter rule adopted by its production sites in France, instead of an 85-decibel beep (the decibel level of a noisy restaurant), as was originally announced by the press.

Other options include a light signal and a digital emission — the latter would be adopted by Essity in order to track and trace potential “contact cases” of COVID-19 positive workers. This works by centralizing information about times, places and duration of excessive physical proximity. Oddly, the company’s management said all data would be anonymous, as the devices would only bear a number, while at the same time announcing that the same data would allow warning people at risk after having come too close to an infected colleague. “Big Brother” would have to be watching them after all.

In another attempt to downplay the inhuman aspects of this type of surveillance in the workplace, spokesman Mark Specque said: “It will be possible to carry the device in a pocket or attached to your belt, instead of around your neck.” Which is but small consolation.

Besides, that a major company should aim to put in place this kind of digital observation device could very well be a foretaste of things to come on a larger scale for the general public. If it can be done under the pretext of sanitary safety, why not use the technology in the streets, shops and other public places?

The widespread concern over Essity’s “dogwatch” plan in France will at least have shown that public irritation against COVID-19 measures is being voiced even in the mainstream media, which to date have been mostly docile in presenting successive, and sometimes contradictory government decisions to quash infections.

Only on Thursday, a roster of ministers, including prime minister Jean Castex, announced a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. as of Saturday 16th January for at least two weeks. It was presented by LREM ruling party leader Stanislas Guérini as an anti-happy hour measure, because under the 8 p.m. curfew people could still meet each other in their homes for drinks after work. Most newspapers and media presented the new rule positively, while at the same time asserting that a large majority of French citizens would “accept” a new total lockdown and actually expect it to be implemented shortly.

While PCR tests for COVID-19 remain high, the number of daily deaths attributed to the coronavirus is stable and not very high, and the total number of ICU patients (it is unclear whether these are all COVID patients) has remained under 2,800 since December 18th (for a population of over 67 million). During the November lockdown, a high of 4,919 was reached well into the month, on November 16th.

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To return to Essity and its “dog-collar” plan, it appears that the company’s workers are convinced that the sanitary measures already in effect inside factories after consultations of the workforce by the units’ leaders are more than sufficient.

According to the communist daily L’Humanité (yes, there is still a communist daily in France!), labor unions represented in the eight French Essity plants believe that worker safety did not motivate the plan, but a desire to follow every move. This is ironic, considering that communist dictatorships all over the world thrived on surveillance and still do, as in communist China where facial recognition and Smartphone localization are the norm.

But it is interesting to note that the “Smartproximity” devices developed by Belgian tech company Phi Data are aimed to be deployed in environments where COVID-19 is pretty much absent. CFDT trade unionist Christine Duguet underscored that in close to one year of living with the virus in a 500-strong production unit, only five positive cases were registered (apparently benign), and not a single contamination: “[A]ll contacts of these persons had tests that came back negative.”

Marc Specque has since announced that his group is now in negotiations with the unions and hopes to set up groups in order to try out the Phi Data device on the ground. “It is our responsibility to have it tested by volunteers. We must have the courage to explore new solutions for the future. We are not certain that tomorrow, other variants or other epidemics will not appear.”

In other words: this could just be a beginning, a trial for technology that could become both mainstream and lasting.

Phi Data rolled out its first “Smartproximity” devices in the beginning of May 2020. The company specializes in tracing and identifying technology, having been founded back in 1981 to produce barcode systems. It has evolved to create integrated hardware systems that range from the Industrial Internet of Things and stock management to automatic identification, data collection and localization of goods and people through barcodes, RFID (radio frequency identification) and other devices, as well as “Field Force Automation” to follow mobile workers and checking on their movements.

Phi Data claims to offer “solutions” for an age of “digital transformation.” And it is putting things and persons on similar planes.


  covid-19, essity, phi data, smartproximity, surveillance

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