For today's dose of horrifying news, the poultry industry comes up big: According to a new report by Oxfam America workers at some poultry plants across the country face abysmal working conditions where they are denied bathroom breaks and often soil themselves while working so as not to lose their jobs.
Debbie Berkowitz, who is recognized in the acknowledgments of Oxfam's report, detailed some of the reports findings in an article in Quartz. Among what she has observed in poultry plants: "Poultry workers stand shoulder to shoulder on both sides of long conveyor belts, most using scissors or knives, in cold, damp, loud conditions."
Employees at plants in Arkansas, North Carolina, and Delaware, among other states, reported that they were not permitted to leave the processing line to use the bathroom, and many said they wore diapers to work to deal with the problem.
"Poultry workers are humiliated, degraded, and put at risk of serious, painful health issues including urinary tract infections, because supervisors are under pressure to keep up production," Berkowitz wrote.
Oxfam is launching a campaign to address the health and safety issues workers face in chicken processing plants, and the organization was set to rally in front of Tyson's Arkansas headquarters Wednesday.
Unseen labor conditions trigger problems across the industry. Last year, questions arose over whether restaurants in the U.S. were serving slave labor shrimp, and many are calling for more transparency at all levels of the supply chain.
Update 5/12, 12:45 p.m.: Tyson provided Eater with the following statement:
We value our Team Members and treat them with respect. If they need a restroom break, we have extra people who can fill in for them. We do not tolerate the refusal of requests to use the restroom.
We're concerned about these anonymous claims and while we currently have no evidence they're true, are checking to make sure our position on restroom breaks is being followed and our Team Members' needs are being met.
We also already use an independent audit firm to assess working conditions in our plants to make sure our Team Members are being treated with dignity. The auditors interview dozens of workers and focus on areas like worker treatment, compensation and safety.
We listen to our Team Members through many channels to make sure they're being treated respectfully. In addition to their supervisor, they can talk to someone in human resources, plant management or one of our chaplains. They can also anonymously contact the Tyson Help Line or Tyson Web Line, which are managed by the company's Ethic and Compliance office and are available 24 hours a day in multiple languages.
We've previously met with officials of Oxfam America to discuss their concerns. We've told them that while we believe we're a caring, responsible company, we're always willing to consider ways we can do better.
Update 1 p.m.: Perdue posted a response to Oxfam America's report on its corporate responsibility website, which is available here. Pilgrim's, another company named in the report, provided Eater with the following statement:
"Protecting and ensuring the health and safety of each and every Pilgrim's team member is core to who we are as a company. We care for our people and work hard to provide a safe, respectful working environment.
"Any allegations of the nature claimed by Oxfam, if proven, would be clear violations of company policy and would result in disciplinary action. Our team members have the opportunity to report any grievances they might have either through our dispute resolution process, their union-negotiated grievance and arbitration process or, anonymously if they desire, through our ‘Pride Line,' a real-time, 24 hours a day telephonic reporting system.
"Bathroom breaks have not been raised as an issue in any of our internal team member satisfaction surveys, nor in the results of our third-party-conducted sustainable safety culture surveys.
"Team member health and safety is an integral part of our sustainability commitment, fundamental to who we are as proud members of American agriculture, and a priority for our more than 37,000 team members, who collectively are Pilgrim's Pride."