US meatpacking industry cited for rights abuses

[JURIST] Working conditions in the American meatpacking industry are so bad that they violate basic human and workers rights, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch [advocacy website]. The report, Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers' Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants [text; HRW press release], concludes that working conditions in meat and poultry plants are unnecessarily hazardous and that companies use illegal tactics to suppress efforts by employees to report abuses, including intimidating and firing workers who try to organize and exploiting workers' immigrant status in order to keep them quiet about abuses. The report recommends that:

  • New federal and state laws should reduce line speed in meat and poultry plants and establish new ergonomics standards to reduce repetitive stress injuries. Health and safety authorities should apply stronger enforcement measures. States should develop stronger worker compensation laws and enforcement mechanisms.

  • Employers should not engage in aggressive, intimidating anti-organizing campaigns that take advantage of loopholes and weaknesses in the U.S. labor law system. Congress should enact legislation bringing U.S. labor law into compliance with international standards (e.g. to prohibit the permanent replacement of striking workers) and should also create stronger remedies for violations of workers' rights.

  • New laws and policies should ensure respect for the human rights of immigrant workers, whatever their legal status. Immigrants should have the same workplace protections as non-immigrants, including coverage under fair labor standards and other labor laws, and the same remedies when their rights are violated.
  • Responding to the report, several industry trade groups and companies said the report relied on outdated or false information. The National Chicken Council [trade association website] issued a statement saying "The rate of injury in poultry processing is lower than it is in industry as a whole, according to publicly available data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics." Tyson Foods [corporate website] unveiled a new "Team Member Bill of Rights" [Tyson press release] Monday, which the company says outlines worker rights, benefits and responsibilities. Reuters has more.


     

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