USA: Human rights group criticises meatpacking industry
A human rights group has launched a scathing attack on the US meat and poultry industry, alleging hazardous work conditions and the use of illegal tactics to smother complaints.
In its report "Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers' Rights in US Meat and Poultry Plants", Human Rights Watch said many workers face a real danger of losing a limb, or even their lives, in unsafe work conditions. It also claimed that companies frequently deny workers' compensation to employees injured on the job, intimidate and fire workers who try to organise, and exploit workers' immigrant status in order to keep them quiet about abuses.
Field research for the report examined beef packing in Nebraska, hog slaughtering in North Carolina, and poultry processing in Arkansas. The report looks closely at companies such as Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, and Nebraska Beef.
"Meatpacking is the most dangerous factory job in America," said Lance Compa, the report's author and a labour rights researcher for Human Rights Watch. "Dangerous conditions are cheaper for companies - and the government does next to nothing."
The report said work in meatpacking plants is so dangerous because of the increasing volume and speed of production, together with close quarters, poor training and insufficient safeguards.
Tyson Foods said it had developed a bill of rights for its employees in an effort to ensure workers understand their rights in the workplace. The document, which will be translated into multiple languages, includes the right to a safe workplace, the right to be free from discrimination and retaliation, and the right to choose whether workers want to join together for collective bargaining.
"This 'bill' reinforces the practices we've long supported and communicated at our plants," said John Tyson, chairman and CEO. "Our team members are the company's most valuable resource and we want to make sure they understand their rights, benefits and responsibilities."
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