The ruling is the result of an investigation into Elite Farm Services Ltd., a licensed chicken-catching service in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. In June, the company fired five employees after an undercover video was released that showed the workers abusing chickens while a supervisor stood by and watched. The video was taken at more than a dozen poultry farms in British Columbia that supply a Lilydale Inc. slaughterhouse in Port Coquitlam. Lilydale, a unit of Sofina Foods Inc., processes fresh and frozen poultry, deli meats, sausage and meat snacks.
Elite Farm Services implemented video surveillance following the recommendation of a crisis management consultant. Local media covered the incident and the company’s response. Acting Information and Privacy Commissioner Drew McArthur initiated an investigation in response to the media coverage.
“Investigation Report P17-01: Use of employee surveillance by a BC chicken catching organization” found that Elite Farm Services violated Canada’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) by collecting personal information of employees, farmers and other contractors without their consent. The investigation also revealed that the company did not conduct a privacy impact assessment and did not have appropriate policies in procedures in place before implementing the surveillance program.
Among the findings:
- Elite Services did not tell its employees that the company might show the surveillance recordings to its customers to manage the Company’s reputation.
- Employees did not sign a consent form to confirm that they were aware of the company’s intended uses for the surveillance.
- The company also did not notify non-employees that might have been subject to the surveillance, nor obtain their consent.
“Video surveillance is too often seen as the solution to business problems. But it’s rarely effective in solving those problems, and worse, it’s often unlawful,” McArthur said in a statement. “In this case, the organization should have avoided employee misconduct by implementing less privacy invasive measures, such as improving hiring, training, and supervision practices. Merely implementing surveillance afterward, when those responsible had been terminated, was ill-considered.
“Organizations should know that any surveillance measures must be reasonable and authorized by PIPA,” McArthur said.
But animal welfare advocates expressed disappointment at the commissioner’s ruling, and called on McArthur to allow video recording inside farms and slaughterhouses to prevent abuse of animals. Mercy For Animals in Canada urged Elite Farm Services to equip workers with body cameras and allow third-party auditing of the recordings and/or live-stream the video to the internet.
“Animal abuse runs rampant in Canada’s meat, dairy, and egg industries, where animals are confined in barren cages; mutilated without pain relief; violently shackled; shocked; and slit open at the throat while alive and fully conscious,” Krista Hiddema, vice president of Mercy For Animals in Canada, said in a statement. “Every farm and slaughterhouse in Canada should install video monitoring systems and live-stream the footage to the Internet or a third-party auditing firm to help prevent animal cruelty and increase transparency in food production. Video footage is only as good as the people who monitor it; without third-party checks in place, it will be ineffective.”
“The best way for an organization to demonstrate compliance with PIPA is to have an appropriate privacy management program,” McArthur said. “Had this been in place, the surveillance likely would not have been implemented.”