US – Two of America’s meat giants, JBS and Tyson Foods, have invested in Mentore, a smartwatch application that allows managers to monitor workers’ movements.

Tyson Ventures, the venture capitalist branch of Tyson Foods, was one of the initial funders of Mentore, along with Monozukuri Ventures and Threshold Impact Fund. Together, the three founders have contributed US$4 million to Mentore, Kiran said.

JBS “partnered” with Mentore — then called Iterate Labs — in October 2020, according to a press release issued by Rev: Ithica Startup Works, a business incubator and startup workspace in Ithaca, New York, where Mentore is based.

Tyson Ventures director Rahul Ray said in March 2021: “At Tyson Ventures, we are continually exploring new areas of technology and artificial intelligence that can improve the health and well-being of our team members.”

“We believe Iterate Labs’ Industrial IoT (Internet of Things) platform could be a game changer driving real-time visibility, safety, and productivity for the North American manufacturing workforce.”

The startup claims the Mentore application which is compatible with the Samsung Watch 4, can improve worker productivity while reducing injuries.

The application uses sensors to constantly collect data on the force, rotation, speed, and directional movement of a worker’s arm as they perform the same motion over and over.

 Mentore’s AI algorithm then interprets the data to determine if the movement is safe, and notifies the worker if they’re exerting too much force or speed.

The watch feeds information 10 times per second to its AI algorithm, which converts the raw data to metrics, visible by supervisors on a dashboard.

That dashboard not only includes safety metrics, but also an “active score,” described on the dashboard as “a metric of productivity measured by the ratio measured in percentage of intense active motion vs. mild active motion…It is a measure of individual productivity and engagement.”

The investments signal that the big meat companies could follow in the footsteps of other industries that have increased surveillance in an attempt to improve worker productivity.

 Amazon, in particular, has come under fire for using tracking technology to speed production so much so that, in at least some cases, its delivery drivers have not had time for bathroom breaks.

Experts familiar with the technology said the use of digital technologies and AI to manage workers can have negative effects, such as increased stress and injuries, particularly when companies use the technology to make disciplinary decisions.

However, Mentore co-founder and CEO Apoorva Kiran said the company’s hypothesis is that if you have implemented good, safe methods for the workers, they are going to be productive as well.

Kiran estimated that 80% of the workplaces using Mentore’s app are unionized. In those workplaces, the company only deploys the Mentore app after getting a nod from the union, Kiran said.

A representative of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the union representing meatpacking workers, said the organization was not aware of the Mentore app being used in any UFCW plants.

The union’s international administration declined to share UFCW’s position on AI and digital monitoring technologies in the workplace.

Many meatpacking plants are currently using a point system for discipline, adding a point to an employee’s record when that person arrives late, misses a shift, or breaks a rule. Once the employee accumulates too many points, they’re subject to being fired.

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