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Poultry Worker Justice Campaign

Poultry workers earn poverty wages and endure arduous conditions inside processing plants. They stand on the line for hours on end, performing the same motion up to 100,000 times each shift. Rates of repetitive strain injuries are shockingly high. Photo: John D. Simmons / The Charlotte Observer

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For information about the challenges facing poultry workers, please explore our interactive site, Lives on the Line, or read our full report.

Over the last two years, Oxfam has partnered with over a dozen organizations to advocate for poultry workers. We’ve been working with civil rights organizations, unions, workers’ rights groups, and worker centers in poultry-producing states. We’ve collaborated on raising awareness about the poultry industry, and are now pushing consumers, policy makers, and the poultry industry to make positive changes for the workers.

We are targeting the top four poultry companies to lead the way and improve conditions for their workforce—Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms. Together, these four companies control 60 percent of the chicken market in the US, employ more than 100,000 line workers, and sell hundreds of products that are in every top retail store, restaurant chain, and food service line.

The campaign is operating on several levels:

  • We are reaching out to the top companies, and inviting them to work with us. So far, Tyson and Perdue have engaged with us and provided responses to the report.
  • We are educating consumers about the reality of life on the line in poultry plants and gathering thousands of signatures on a petition to the four companies. We are engaging dozens of influential voices in this campaign, including Dan Glickman (Former Secretary, US Department of Agriculture), Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé (founding principals, Small Planet Institute), and Dolores Huerta (pioneering labor leader and co-founder of United Farm Workers).
  • We engage in actions at industry events. For example, we demonstrated with workers outside the annual meeting of the National Chicken Council in 2015.
  • We filed shareholder resolutions with Tyson and Sanderson to increase transparency in their worker safety reporting—important information for investors to have.
  • We are reaching out to various agencies of the federal government and urging them to implement policies for greater oversight and stricter safety standards. We have met with Members of Congress, White House staff, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the US Department of Agriculture.

Immediately after the campaign launched, we saw positive signs of change:

  • The report and campaign have attracted the attention of some of the top food advocates in the country, including Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Danielle Nierenberg, and chef Mary Sue Milliken.
  • Tyson Foods announced pay increases for a third of its workers—34,000 employees in more than 50 plants across the U.S.
  • Tyson Foods announced a pilot project to improve worker health and safety, with a focus on worker communication and data-gathering.
  • OSHA announced a new Regional Emphasis Program to monitor the poultry industry in southern states of the US. In their statement, they noted: “’The Regional Emphasis Program is designed to reduce employee exposure to crippling injuries, such as musculoskeletal disorders, and to ensure the industry records all occupational injuries and illnesses accurately,’ said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s regional administrator in Atlanta.”
  • Fifteen Members of Congress signed onto a letter to OSHA urging action on problems in the poultry industry.

These are important advances, with the potential to make a real difference for thousands of workers.

But there is a long way to go. Poultry companies must do more to protect the health and safety of their employees, provide fair compensation, and ensure that workers’ rights are respected. Most importantly, they must make these commitments public and measure progress openly and transparently.

Consumers have already pushed the poultry industry to improve the treatment of their chickens, reduce the use of antibiotics, and improve food safety. Now it’s time to focus on the workers who are responsible for bringing the chicken to our plates.

Poultry companies have an obligation to improve conditions for its employees. The government has the responsibility to enact and enforce greater oversight. And consumers have the power to speak out and push for changes. 

 

 

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