Human rights commission urged to examine dangerous work conditions in U.S. poultry, meatpacking plants

The SPLC urged the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights today to address human rights violations in U.S. poultry and meatpacking plants – violations stemming from the government’s failure to protect the health and safety of workers responsible for making the United States the largest producer of beef and poultry in the world.

In a petition to the international body, the SPLC asked the commission to hold a hearing on the state of human rights within these industries. A copy of the petition and a letter urging action was sent to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack.

“The United States has not acted with due diligence nor has it taken proper steps to prevent abuses of meatpacking and poultry processing workers’ human rights, and is inasmuch violating the rights of workers in the poultry industry through its negligence,” the petition says.

The petition describes how workers endure significant injuries and illnesses as they are forced to keep up with the punishing speed of processing lines. Workers can make 20,000 cuts a day to the meat and poultry on the line, repetitive motions they blame for debilitating injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Knife cuts and respiratory illnesses are also common.  

Since many of these workers are recent immigrants, they are fearful of losing their jobs or facing the scrutiny of immigration officials if they report injuries or complain about workplace hazards. Their silence results in these industries having injury rates that are far higher than those counted by government safety officials.

These findings have been documented in the poultry industry by the SPLC in its 2013 reportUnsafe at These Speeds: Alabama’s Poultry Industry and its Disposable Workers. Nebraska Appleseed, which filed the petition with the SPLC, documented similar findings in the meatpacking industry in its 2009 report The Speed Kills You. The groups’ findings have been echoed in worker interviews conducted by the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, which also joined the groups in filing the petition