SPLC testifies about worker abuse in U.S. meatpacking, poultry plants

The human rights of U.S. meat and poultry workers are being routinely violated in plants where workers suffer crippling injuries because of excessive work speeds allowed by the federal government, the SPLC testified today before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

During his testimony at an IACHR hearing in Washington, SPLC staff attorney Tom Fritzsche called for the government to enact work-speed protections and to abandon a new regulation proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase poultry evisceration line speeds.

“The meat and poultry processing industries violate the fundamental human rights of their workers, who come from all over the hemisphere, by systematically exploiting the lack of work speed safety regulations in the United States,” Fritzsche testified. “The U.S., in turn, negligently permits these industries to inflict disabling harm on thousands of their employees.”

He also described the indignity workers endure.

“The work speed is so unrelenting that it has forced workers to urinate and defecate in their clothing while working on the line because employers deny reasonable bathroom use, violating workers’ rights to dignity,” he said.  

The hearing comes as the USDA prepares to finalize a new regulation that would increase poultry slaughter line speeds from the current maximum of 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute. The new regulations also would endanger consumer safety by removing hundreds of federal food safety inspectors from plants, giving plant employees the responsibility for spotting and removing tainted chicken from the line.

The SPLC testified as part of a coalition of civil rights groups and meat and poultry workers. The civil rights groups petitioned the international commission to investigate the disabling injuries and dangers faced by workers responsible for making the United States the world’s largest producer of beef and poultry.

Many of the abuses discussed at the hearing were documented by the SPLC and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in the 2013 report Unsafe at These Speeds: Alabama’s Poultry Industry and its Disposable Workers.

The coalition that petitioned for the hearing also included the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights and the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest.

Read Fritzsche’s testimony read here.