The latest issue of The New Yorker features an exhaustive and harrowing read on labor conditions at chicken factory farms. This is why, since our inception, we have encouraged that potential sponsors be screened not only for the products they offer, but also for their labor and environmental practices.
This also highlights the importance of transparency in the food chain (which “ag-gag” laws — funded by industry — are intent on battling) as well as the courageousness of whistleblowers.
* “Though Case Farms isn’t a household name, you’ve probably eaten its chicken. Each year, it produces nearly a billion pounds for customers such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeyes, and Taco Bell. Boar’s Head sells its chicken as deli meat in supermarkets. Since 2011, the U.S. government has purchased nearly seventeen million dollars’ worth of Case Farms chicken, mostly for the federal school-lunch program.”
* “Case Farms plants are among the most dangerous workplaces in America. In 2015 alone, federal workplace-safety inspectors fined the company nearly two million dollars, and in the past seven years it has been cited for two hundred and forty violations. That’s more than any other company in the poultry industry except Tyson Foods, which has more than thirty times as many employees.”
* “David Michaels, the former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), called Case Farms “an outrageously dangerous place to work.”
* “Case Farms has built its business by recruiting some of the world’s most vulnerable immigrants, who endure harsh and at times illegal conditions that few Americans would put up with. When these workers have fought for higher pay and better conditions, the company has used their immigration status to get rid of vocal workers, avoid paying for injuries, and quash dissent. Thirty years ago, Congress passed an immigration law mandating fines and even jail time for employers who hire unauthorized workers, but trivial penalties and weak enforcement have allowed employers to evade responsibility.”
* “Case Farms managers said that the lines in Canton run about thirty-five birds a minute, but workers at other Case Farms plants told me that their lines run as fast as forty-five birds a minute. In 2015, meat, poultry, and fish cutters, repeating similar motions more than fifteen thousand times a day, experienced carpal-tunnel syndrome at nearly twenty times the rate of workers in other industries.”
* “Scrambling to find workers in the late nineteen-eighties and early nineties, Case Farms sent recruiters across the country to hire Latino workers. Many of the new arrivals found the conditions intolerable. In one instance, the recruiters hired dozens of migrant farmworkers from border towns in Texas, offering them bus tickets to Ohio and housing once there. When workers arrived, they encountered a situation that a federal judge later called “wretched and loathsome.” They were packed in small houses with about twenty other people. Although it was the middle of winter, the houses had no heat, furniture, or blankets. One worker said that his house had no water, so he flushed the toilet with melted snow. They slept on the floor, where cockroaches crawled over them.”
* “Popowycz, who is the chairman of the industry’s trade group, the National Chicken Council, said that Case Farms had made some safety mistakes but was working hard to correct them. He defended the company on every question I had. Case Farms, he said, treated its workers well and never refused to let them use the bathroom. Fees for replacement equipment discouraged workers from throwing things away. As for unions, the company didn’t need someone to stand between it and its employees. “Our goal is to prove that we’re not the company that OSHA has basically said we are,” he told me.”
* “The Labor Department, in addition to finding numerous safety violations, fined Cal-Clean, Case Farms’ sanitation contractor, sixty-three thousand dollars for employing four child laborers. The fines and the citations against Case Farms have continued to accumulate. Last September, OSHA determined that the company’s line speeds and work flow were so hazardous to workers’ hands and arms that it should “investigate and change immediately” nearly all the positions on the line.”