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Help protect people vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 in the US and around the globe.

In reaction to reports of President Trump’s intention to use the Defense Production Act to order meat processing facilities to stay open during the pandemic, Oxfam America’s CEO and President Abby Maxman issued this statement:

By Oxfam

“This announcement represents the capstone of a failed government response to police an industry that prioritizes profits over people and hides behind a veneer of food security to continue a fundamentally exploitative business model.

Once again, we see the government’s disregard for the lives of marginalized people who earn low-wages —the meat processing workforce is predominantly people of color, immigrants, and refugees.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the White House and the Administration have shown complete disregard for hourly workers, at a deadly cost. From reducing OSHA reporting requirements around COVID-19 illness to allowing employers to police themselves, to dismissing worker complaints and failing to provide an emergency standard for how to keep workers safe, this has been a resounding and appalling absence of government at a time when workers need it most.

We may not know everything about Covid-19, but we do know how easily it is transmitted—and what conditions hasten its spread. Meat processing plants provide the perfect environment for the virus: workers stand shoulder to shoulder in cold humid air for hours on end, with minimal access to bathrooms and running water. Most can’t afford to stay home without pay if they get sick, and most were denied paid sick time under Congresses Coronavirus relief laws.

Meanwhile, companies have failed to step up as they needed to, despite often claiming that worker safety is their number one priority. Proactive steps to protect workers and minimize the spread of the disease should have been the first order and could have mitigated damage we are seeing today. The measures were clear and being conveyed directly by workers and their advocates: paid sick leave, social distancing and slower line speeds, downtime to clean facilities, proper protective gear and systems, and access to sanitation.

Rather than take quick and effective action, however, too many dragged their feet, in many cases even speeding up production to meet increased demand.

As a result, hundreds of meat and poultry workers have contracted the virus, and dozens have died.

As government seeks to protect food security they must value and protect the human lives which produce the food. Having left it to companies to police themselves, even as they failed their workers in dramatic fashion, this is hardly a moment to give them a pass on implementing measures that save lives.”

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Kria Sakakeeny
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