Meal kit company Blue Apron has made much of its aim to “revolutionize” the food system: in sending fresh, pre-portioned ingredients to the doors of millions each day, it claims to be “reinventing the grocery supply chain from the farm to the table.” But according to a new report by BuzzFeed News, there’s nothing revolutionary about the working conditions in the company’s packing facility.
BuzzFeed’s report details dozens of instances of workplace violence, threats, and unsafe working conditions at Blue Apron’s Richmond, Calif. packing facility. According to workers who spoke to reporter Caroline O'Donovan, the warehouse is kept below 40 degrees, despite being full of employees who work long hours for low wages.
Every worker interviewed for the BuzzFeed story, including those who said they enjoyed their job, recalled violence or threats of violence, visits from the police, injuries, high turnover, unfair treatment, or a combination of the above. Is this par for the course for a fast-growing food company in the tech space? Either way, it is cause for pause.
Below, the most explosive takeaways from the report:
- The Richmond Police Department has received numerous calls to the Blue Apron facility due to violence. The department has been called to the facility twice because of weapons, three times for bomb threats, and seven times due to assault.
At least four arrests have been made due to violence or violent threats. Employees have reported being “punched in the face, choked, groped, pushed, pulled, and even bitten by each other on the job, according to police reports.” Employees have also recalled bomb scares and rumors of guns on the premises.
In one instance, an employee left a voicemail with his supervisor “saying he planned to quit his job at Blue Apron later that day...bring a gun to the warehouse and shoot his manager, as well as other people at the facility.” Police captains have met twice with Blue Apron to discuss the frequency of those calls though in recent months, security has reportedly increased and calls have decreased.
- Blue Apron has received more OSHA violations than any other meal kit company. To be fair, meal kits are still a burgeoning industry, but one that already generates $5 billion a year. Blue Apron’s safety violations, however, are notable for a company of any size. According to BuzzFeed, Blue Apron has been dealt more $25,000 in proposed penalties by California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health. This included $11,695 for “unsafe conditions that put workers at risk for fractured bones, chemical burns, and more,” and a $13,050 penalty following a forklift accident.
A separate inspection — conducted by the Contra Costa County Environmental Health Division — led to nine health violations, including one “major violation” regarding the sanitization of food surfaces. Blue Apron ultimately passed the inspection overall, however.
- Low wages leads to high turnover. To keep up with demand, the company has to had to hire thousands of employees, very quickly. Some reported working 12-hour-or-longer days, and fielding phone calls as late as 2 a.m.
One operations worker, said the company was shipping 6,500 boxes a week out of the Richmond facility when she joined in 2014. Three weeks later, that number shot up to 9,000 and, by August 2015, to 34,000.
As a result of the rapid growth, employees say the hiring process became much less stringent. The company began relying on temporary employees and staffing agencies. The full-time employees who were on staff cited an “aggressive work environment.” One former employee told BuzzFeed she quit after 16 months, as her promised $1 raise turned out “to be only a quarter.”
In addition to these food safety risks, the use of large machinery and sharp objects can make food processing plants an incredibly dangerous workplace. A recent report by Oxfam America found that workers in poultry plants across the country are denied bathroom breaks, often soiling themselves while working so as not to lose their jobs. Last year, questions arose over whether restaurants in the U.S. were serving slave labor shrimp. Such reports of unsafe working conditions have led many to call for more transparency at all levels of the supply chain.
The news of Blue Apron’s Richmond facility certainly doesn’t come at a good time for the meal kit giant, which is rumored to be gearing up for an IPO, though it won’t confirm those reports. In 2015, Blue Apron was valued at $2 billion and has so far raised some $193.8 million in venture capital.
Blue Apron did, however, provide Eater with the following statement in response to the BuzzFeed story:
Blue Apron is committed to creating the best possible workplace experience for all of our employees and the safety of our employees and customers has always been our top priority. We have created thousands of jobs across the country and have always promptly addressed any issues we've encountered in any of our facilities. We are proud of the culture we’ve developed, and work diligently to ensure that all team members – from our corporate headquarters to our fulfillment centers – feel valued, respected and have opportunities for career growth.