EXCLUSIVE: UK’s biggest flooring contractor slams plans to inject chips into UK workers

News that many London-based firms are consulting biohackers in order to implant chips into employees for ‘security’ has outraged some in the flooring sector.  

Flooring companies, including the UK’s largest contractor, Designer Contracts, have expressed their disgust at plans by several UK firms to embed chips into some of their workers’ bodies in order to safeguard financial information.

‘People are people and deserve to be treated with respect, not chipped like pets,’ said Designer Contracts ceo, Peter Kelsey. ‘It’s important to be able to maintain a level of privacy. The idea is totally unacceptable, and I really can’t see microchipping being something that would ever be used in the flooring sector, or in fact any other. It’s certainly not something we’d ever want to be associated with!’

There was similar outrage from Martyn Ryder, ceo of The Solid Wood Flooring Company, who said: ‘This would be very dangerous for many reasons and should be made illegal. If people can hack into systems with numerous firewalls imagine what can be done to chips? They would be easily cloned so criminals could copy one and get access to security information.’

‘It’s a ‘No’ from me,’ concurred Richard Renouf, director of Expertise with Integrity, who writes a monthly column for CFJ. ‘As I understand it, the chips won’t do anything that can’t currently be done using access cards or fingerprint/retina scanners.’

Having worked for several companies, Richard says he expects there to be pressure on employees to consent, just as there has been for other issues such as Sunday working. Whether this is simply peer pressure or pressure applied by the management makes no difference, he points out.

‘I can’t see a company being willing to run with only partial take-up of implants and so if they feel there’s a driver to have implants there’ll be pressure on all to consent. As with most unwelcome employment changes, there will be ways found to ensure this is enforced on all new employees through the recruitment process and it wouldn’t be optional for long.’

The potential for the chips to broadcast personal data, or at the very least to be used to locate and track a person, is real and this would apply at all times, not just during working hours, says Richard.

‘Medically speaking, the use of implants of all kinds (hips, knees, transplanted organs etc) is relatively commonplace but in every case, there are risks and the procedures don’t have a 100% success rate.

‘From a flooring contractor's point-of-view, companies would still have to allow access to workers carrying out contractual work on the fabric of a building, so it shouldn't make any difference unless companies insist all contractors have implants, too.

‘While it's amazing how far technology has come, this is a case of 'just because you can doesn't mean you should' and I wouldn’t see this as acceptable use of technology.’

Chris Vincent, managing director of V4 Wood Flooring, said he was ‘disappointed’ to hear several UK firms have begun exploring the idea of chipping employees. ‘This is a step too far and we should question why we’re employing certain people if we feel they can’t be trusted,’ he pointed out.

‘Here at V4, we view our employees as an extension of our family and I don’t believe tracking each and every one of our staff members is a necessary step to take. Yes, we have tracking devices on our vehicles, but this is purely from a customer service point-of-view so we’re able to inform customers and suppliers of the ETAs for their deliveries.

‘I can confidently say this isn’t something I’ll be supporting in my business, and I’ll be saddened if other companies in the industry start to take these ridiculous measures.’

Jess Cappleman from the UK Trade Furnishings marketing department, said that although the technology sounds useful in terms of improving security, removing the need for keys that can be stolen or lost, and for storing medical data that may save a person’s life, in the wrong hands, there were too many dangers.

‘The technology could be easily exploited, and many employees may become paranoid, putting them off working with us. If somebody leaves the company, they may still be able to access company data, and the chips don’t come cheap to us either. Overall, given the wealth of personal or sensitive information and ability to be tracked, we believe microchips are unethical, immoral, and a violation of employee rights.’

Benjamin Poole, owner of First Impression Carpets, said he could understand if the military would like to chip its service personnel or intelligence officers. He says that, according to his son who has studied biometrics, nuclear power plants already have their staff chipped. ‘In some lines of business, this is a reasonable expectation, but – and it’s a big but – I’d want to know how it’s removed once I stopped working at that company. As a contractor I’d definitely need a lot of money in order to be tracked like a dog and I’d definitely worry about whether I was being tracked during my downtime.’

Benjamin said he’d once worked in Johnson Matthey gold bullion factory and he observed it had a massive responsibility to clients to maintain an excellent level of security, as with aircraft manufacturers and high-risk security areas.

‘If I was working in such areas, I’d allow them to chip me, but I’d want an extensive privacy contract and a lot more money for the inconvenience. Ultimately, it will come down to money rather than privacy. How much will they give us in order for us to be chipped? Nonetheless, while it sounds like a great idea, nothing will stop a determined criminal – even if they have to chop off your arm to get the chip.’

To make matters worse, Benjamin points out, if someone surreptitiously cloned or hacked the chip, you wouldn’t even know it until much later. ‘Criminals could get up to all sorts of shenanigans, and once they have control of your chip details, who knows what they could do – all in your name! Normal, law-abiding citizens wouldn't stand a chance. I suspect there’d be a lot of stress knowing your freedom was being compromised 24/7.’

Benjamin said he’d asked his kids, aged between 15-22 for their views and ‘they all said It’s not that they’d fear being caught for doing anything bad, rather just that they’d never be able to do anything at all without being tracked’.

He also asked an employee who said he could be enticed into being chipped for security access, but that he’d have to be offered ‘shiploads’ of money. In addition, after the completion of any job requiring an implant, he’d want to see the chip removed and all data permanently wiped.

Sid Bourne, independent consultant and another CFJ columnist, said for those working in a very secure environment where a key-card or code was necessary to navigate between offices and sites, chipping was ‘a convenient option. The idea it can also be used to identify you on various kinds of hardware and software is also, I think, positive.’

Sid says the fact the chips can be used for opening and starting cars and for home security was also beneficial if the process was ‘adequately tested’.

He cautioned about negative applications such as the fact they may be used to monitor workplaces and employees’ work ethics etc, but he claims this sort of behaviour would be made illegal.

‘I see no obvious benefits for small business or flooring contractors unless on a long-term contract. They say they’ll be more secure than your smartphone so hacking the chips may be more difficult. This is new to me but having read up, it seems there are more positives than negatives.’

Most flooring companies that CFJ that reached out to for reaction declined to comment, although their replies were indicative of the widespread bewilderment that chipping employees would be considered by bosses.

One said: ‘It’s not something we’ll be requiring of our employees in the foreseeable future and not our most pressing concern at this point in time either, so I’m probably not best-placed to comment or contribute. Good luck with the article though. We suspect that one or two of our suppliers employ robots as reps – if that helps?’

Another said: ‘That's an interesting topic. I'll ask around about this but as far as I'm aware it's not something that's on our radar (our sign-in cards don't even work every day).’

A third company, in the adhesives market, declined to comment but said: ‘Seems extreme,’ while another described it as ‘dystopian’.

Chip implants have never been trialled long-term in humans, and in fact have been found to cause aggressive cancers when injected into some lab mice.

The current controversy was sparked when the Daily Telegraph ran an article at the end of last year, revealing that British companies are planning to microchip some of their staff in order to boost security and stop them accessing sensitive areas.

Biohax, a Swedish company that provides human chip implants, told the Telegraph it was in talks with several UK legal and financial firms to implant staff with the devices. One prospective client, which cannot be named, is a major financial services firm with ‘hundreds of thousands of employees’.

‘These companies have sensitive documents they are dealing with,’ said Jowan Österlund, the founder of Biohax and a former professional body piercer. ‘[The chips] would allow them to set restrictions for whoever.’

In August 2017 Wisconsin-based Three Square Market partnered with Biohax and became the first company in the US to microchip its employees, on a voluntary basis.

The Guardian approached some firms for comment. KPMG, one of the big four accountancy firms, said it was not planning to microchip its employees and ‘would under no circumstances consider doing so’.

Fellow accounting firms EY and PwC also said they wouldn’t consider microchipping their employees.

Deloitte declined to comment.