***For Immediate Release***
October 27, 2015
Kria Sakakeeny, Oxfam America
Immigrants & Communities Director, Nebraska Appleseed
(402) 438-8853 (office)
(402) 803-0382 (cell)
New Campaign Exposes the Human Cost of the Chicken on Our Plates
Oxfam America highlights worker abuses and calls on top companies to publicly commit to core labor rights, including fair compensation, safer workplace conditions, and greater workforce engagement
A decade’s worth of studies has repeatedly exposed widespread abuses of workers in the U.S. meatpacking and poultry industry. Today, a new report released by Oxfam America reaffirms that poultry workers in the United States suffer extremely high rates of injury, earn poverty level wages, and work in a climate of fear. These are similar findings to previous research compiled by Nebraska Appleseed, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and many other human rights organizations.
The report is central to Oxfam’s new nationwide campaign that exposes the human cost of the modern poultry industry and rallies consumers to call on the nation’s largest poultry companies –Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms–to treat workers with fairness and dignity. Two of these largest poultry companies are also among the largest meat processors (Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s, which is owned by J.B.S.).
American consumption of chicken has tripled in the last 50 years, and the $50 billion industry is posting record profits, yet poultry processing remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Oxfam’s report, Lives on the Line, exposes industry practices designed to discourage workers from reporting injuries and violations, prevent organizing, and inhibit workers from information sharing and communicating. In Nebraska and across the country, many poultry and meat workers come from marginalized populations such as immigrants, women, and people with low incomes already discouraged from speaking out.
“Poultry workers are among the most vulnerable and exploited workers in the United States,” said Ray Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. “The industry is booming, profits are climbing, but poultry workers remain trapped at the bottom. Oxfam believes the consumer has tremendous power to put pressure on these companies to change their unfair policies and ensure that workers can assert their rights without fear of retribution.”
The report cites dozens of medical studies and government studies that document how the relentless pace of the processing line and more than 20,000 cutting, pulling, and hanging motions per day contribute to painful and crippling musculoskeletal injuries to workers. Poultry workers suffer carpal tunnel syndrome seven times more often than workers in all other industries and suffer occupational illnesses at five times the rate.
“As a former meatpacking worker who endured the same dangerous conditions, this report is another confirmation that fast work speeds in meat and poultry plants are crippling workers at an alarming rate,” said Jose Gaytan, a former meatpacking worker from Nebraska. “While I was working, I remember my hands swelling up, locking up. I also saw a lot of injuries from the work speed – falls, cuts, burns, and crippling injuries from the repetitions.”
Research by Oxfam has shown that the implementation of worker protection policies put in place by several poultry companies are falling short and the companies are failing to live up to their own standards. Other companies, such as Pilgrim’s and Sanderson Farms, have no publicly-stated policies concerning working conditions or their workforce.
Oxfam America’s report offers detailed recommendations for companies to change the way the industry treats its workers, including providing fair compensation and ensuring workers have both a safe workplace and an empowered voice. The report also calls for the federal government to provide greater oversight of the industry.
“We all want to know that the people who process our food are safe,” said Omaid Zabih, staff attorney for Nebraska Appleseed’s Immigrants & Communities Program. “It’s time for federal work-speed protections for meat and poultry workers in order to prevent devastating injuries. And consumers can play an important role by asking questions about the working conditions behind the food on our plates.”
About the coalition
Oxfam America has been working with a number of organizations devoted to improving conditions for poultry and meat workers across the U.S.
- Center for Progressive Reform
- Coalition of Black Trade Unionists
- Greater Minnesota Worker Center
- Interfaith Worker Justice
- National Council of La Raza
- Nebraska Appleseed
- Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center
- Southern Poverty Law Center
- United Food and Commercial Workers
- Western North Carolina Workers’ Center
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