The Midwest Coalition for Human Rights and Nebraska Appleseed have submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) requesting an October hearing to address serious human rights violations in meatpacking and poultry processing plants across the U.S. The IACHR is a permanent body mandated by the Organization of American States that promotes and protects human rights in North and South America.
The meatpacking profession remains one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Unrelenting production speed, alarming rates of injury, denial of bathroom use, and other supervisory abuse are conditions meat and poultry workers face every day. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, animal slaughter jobs have one of the highest rates of injury in manufacturing. Notably, this data covers only reported injuries; it has been chronicled by the U.S. government and others that underreporting of injuries is a systemic problem across the meatpacking industry. The severity of injuries is also startling – workers engage in thousands of repetitive cuts on a daily basis resulting in permanently crippling muscle and tendon injuries. Commonly known as musculoskeletal disorders or repetitive stress injuries, the gradual nature of these ailments and company pressure can cause workers to disregard symptoms until it is too late.
The petition claims that the United States has failed to prevent and protect workers’ fundamental human rights by ensuring safe and adequate working conditions. Specifically, Article XIV of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man states that every person has the right to work under proper conditions. The governmental agency designated to prevent, inspect, and redress hazardous working conditions is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The lack of production speed regulations, an uncooperative Congress that statutorily rejected OSHA’s comprehensive ergonomic standard in 2001, an inadequate number of inspectors (2,400 inspectors for 139,000,000 workers), and a powerful meat industry have all contributed to the hazardous working conditions meatpackers face every day.
Over the last 10 years, important efforts by human rights and nonprofit organizations, journalists, governmental entities, and unions have highlighted the hazardous and degrading conditions meatpacking workers have had to endure. We hope this petition elicits a strong response from the IACHR that continues to pressure Congress and OSHA to create and advance substantive reform.
Read Nebraska Appleseed’s 2009 Report “The Speed Kills You: The Voice of Nebraska’s Meatpacking Workers”