Commentary, News

The good people at OxFam America are out with a new and disturbing report that highlights the poor treatment of poultry workers — many of them here in North Carolina. This is from the introduction to “Lives on the line: The human cost of cheap chicken”:

OxFam report“Chicken is the most popular meat in America , and the poultry industry is booming. Profits are climbing, consumer demand is growing, and executive compensation is increasing rapidly.

But one element remains trapped at the bottom: the workers on the poultry processing line. Poultry workers 1) earn low wages of diminishing value, 2) suffer elevated rates of injury and illness, and 3) often experience a climate of fear in the workplace.

These problems affect the entire industry, but the top four chicken companies control roughly 60 percent of the domestic market: Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms. As industry leaders, these companies can and should implement changes that will improve conditions for poultry workers across the country.

The full report explores industry history and trends in consumption, documents the realities and challenges of life working on the line, and offers concrete recommendations to improve conditions.

The immersive website, Lives on the Line, uses multimedia to convey the experiences of workers inside the poultry plant.”

If you can stomach all the images and stories, you’ll find it hard not to conclude that the industry is, on the whole, anything but an exploitative mess.

As the Farmworker Advocacy Network reports:

“There are approximately 28,000 poultry processing workers in North Carolina, who are predominantly people of color and immigrants with a significant number of women. In order to process the chicken that ends up in our grocery stores and our restaurants, they earn poverty level wages, suffer injuries and illnesses at high rates and endure a climate of fear that makes it difficult for them to speak out against these conditions.”

Click here to read an eight page summary.

Click here to read the entire report.

Click here to check out a multimedia website.


Here’s a story that’s been around for a while but gotten far too little attention. The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to loosen regulatory oversight over the poultry processing industry — an industry that has long posed grave safety problems for both workers and the consuming public. If you doubt this, refresh your memory by perusing the Charlotte Observer’s award-winning 2008 series on the industry: “The Cruelest Cuts.”

Fortunately, experts and advocates are pushing back. As the New York Times reported earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office has issued a report blasting the USDA proposal (which would also allow faster line speeds for workers to contend with):

“The Agriculture Department’s plan to change its poultry inspection procedures relied on incomplete and antiquated data, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office released on Wednesday.

The new rules will allow workers at plants, rather than agency inspectors, to examine birds on processing lines for blemishes or feces. Read More