Oxfam's efforts on poultry worker justice have been continuous and impactful:
- In 2020 and 2021, as COVID-19 battered the workforce in poultry and meat plants, Oxfam worked with a broad coalition to demand that the poultry industry take urgent, appropriate steps to protect the lives and well-being of workers. From a letter to the industry in April to a report on the realities inside the plants in August, to engaging companies directly, we issued three specific directives: provide paid leave; implement social distancing; and communicate with workers and the community.
- In 2017, the largest poultry company in the US, Tyson Foods, announced new and expanded commitments for workers that, at the time, appeared to be a win-win-win for everyone.
- 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 top companies. After we published the groundbreaking report Lives on the Line, we followed up with No Relief. Both enjoyed substantial coverage in media and social media outlets.
- We engage with workers at a variety of events: from rallies to convenings to conferences.
- We filed several shareholder resolutions with the top publicly-held companies, which gathered more approval over the years.
- 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.
Among other positive signs of change:
- The Government Accountability Office (GAO) produced two reports: the most recent confirmed our findings about the climate of fear inside the processing plants.
- In 2018, the USDA announced that is was denying a petition by the poultry industry to increase poultry processing line speeds.
- 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.