Category Archives: Workers

Fishing industry slavery spreads

The average consumer may not realize it, but the fishing industry is also tied to some horrific abuses of human rights. In putting a meal with fish on the table, you may also be helping to sustain patterns of exploitation and abuse at sea.

Several reports have highlighted the fact that some sectors of the fishing industry continue to use forced labor and physical punishment, and even deliberately kill workers. Fishery workers can be extremely vulnerable while at sea, far out of sight of law enforcement agencies or help from friends and family.

We’ve written how fishing is bad for the world’s oceans, and for our health, but it’s also bad for the many enslaved fisherman. We have written before about modern day slavery in the fishing industry in east Asia, but it has now spread to other parts of the world. African and Asian crew members working on a pair of U.K. scallop trawlers were taken to a place of safety by British police earlier this month as suspected victims of modern slavery.

For instance, NGO workers have described the exploitation of fishermen off of South Africa’s shore as being “rife and rampant.” After being rocked by a series of abuse scandals, New Zealand has taken steps to ensure that employers who use slave labor can’t operate in its waters.

Tuna, marlin, shark, sailfish, and swordfish commercially caught in Hawaii is often fished, using destructive longline gear, by vulnerable workers enduring human rights abuses.

Stories of slavery at sea today highlight appalling human conditions, with workers separated from their families and forced into abysmal conditions, often prevented from returning home.

Fishery workers can be lured into situations of modern slavery by seemingly legitimate employment opportunities, but once recruited they find themselves unable to leave because of the threat of violence towards themselves or family members, physical confinement on- and off-shore, the withholding of wages, and the debts they incur through the recruitment process.

The largest part of the answer to this problem is to simply stop eating fish. This will reduce the demand for fish, and cut the incomes of those using these abusive tactics. There are now several brands of vegan seafood and fish available, including brands such as Sophies Kitchen, Gardein, Atlanta Natural Foods, Vivera, Good Catch, Tofuna Fysh, and Quorn. All of these brands avoid any risk of abusive fishing practices, and they’ll be better for your health as well.

Covid-19 harms both workers and animals

Slaughterhouses kill more than just animals. Meatpacking plants, along with prisons, have become the nation’s leading hot spots for the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Thousands of meatpacking workers have fallen ill, many have died. Virus outbreaks at meatpacking plants have lead to the virus spreading more widely in surrounding communities, said Nicholas Christakis, director of Yale University’s Human Nature Lab and a specialist in how contagion travels through social networks.

While we wrote back in June 2020 about Covid 19 spreading in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants, we now know so much more about how the virus spreads in these places. Slaughterhouses and meat processing plants are favorable environments for SARS-CoV-2 transmission. The virus thrives in lower temperatures and in very high or very low relative humidity. Metallic surfaces retain live viruses. Aerosols, densely combining dust, feathers, and feces, are produced in the plants, and intense water use carries materials extensively over surfaces. Workers must speak loudly or shout over the noise, releasing more droplets and spreading them further. Workplaces are crowded, and social distancing is difficult. The plight of the slaughterhouse workers was already dire, but this just puts another layer on their hardship.

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Covid-19 adds to stress on slaughterhouse workers

Meat packers Covid

COVID-19 is having a big impact on slaughterhouse workers, whose job is already considered the most dangerous in the country.  The rate of slaughterhouse worker injury is now triple that of other manufacturing and processing jobs. Slaughterhouse worker injuries run the gamut of everything from repetitive motion injuries, to serious cuts and amputations, to a high incidence of certain cancers and autoimmune diseases that are strongly associated with handling meat. Human Rights Watch concludes that slaughterhouse workers have the most dangerous job in America, and even the US Government Accountable Office (USGAO) says that they face much greater risks than other workers. Read more

Ending slavery in the seafood industry

Thai fishing boat with peopleSlavery has been a well-documented human rights disaster in several world fishing regions for years. We wrote about this problem a few years back when reports began to surface in 2014 that seafood harvested or processed by forced labor was making it into the supply chains of major U.S. retailers like Walmart, Kroger, Safeway and restaurants like Red Lobster. For U.S. retailers and seafood importers, avoiding slavery in the fish supply chain has proved exceedingly difficult. Fishing occurs far from shore, often out of sight, while exploitation and abuse on vessels stem from very complex social and economic situations. Read more

Chicken slaughter is killing us

Chicken-carcassesThe U.S. Department of Agriculture recently denied a petition by the National Chicken Council to remove the line speed limit on how many chickens can killed per second in the slaughterhouse.

Some food safety advocates cheered at this, calling it a victory for workers and consumers, but we don’t think it’s that much of a victory. The current rate at which chickens can be killed is already ridiculously fast at 3 chickens per second, and accidents and injuries are already a concern. Read more

The Forgotten Casualties of Meat – Slaughterhouse workers

slaughterhouse-workerThere’s at least 150,000 of them in America alone. Many authorities consider them to have the worst job in America and few can stand to stick at this job for more than a year. They suffer badly, both physically and emotionally, and by many measures they have the most dangerous job in America. Almost no one speaks up for them. Even fewer stand up for them. They’re slaughterhouse workers. Read more

The High Price of Pork

transport pigWhen it comes to pork, there’s a high price to be paid by the workers, by the environment, and perhaps worst of all, by the pigs themselves. The scale of the problem is enormous. We raise 120 million pigs each year in the US, and many millions more are raised around the world.

The environment pays a high price for concentrated factory-style pig farming. Factory pig farms produce huge amounts of manure – much more than can be used as fertilizer. This manure is stored in lagoons that can leak or break open after a good rain, and cause massive amounts of water pollution as the runoff enters the lakes and streams. This results in massive fish kills and food chain disruption. Methane, a greenhouse gas much more damaging than carbon dioxide, is given off from these lagoons, contributing to global warming, and the intense smell reduces the air quality in the surrounding neighborhood to an often unbearable degree. Read more

Slavery in Seafood

Thai fishing boat with peopleThe seafood industry in Thailand suffers from widespread worker abuse amounting to slavery, according to a recent report by the nonprofit organization Verité. Virtually all American and European companies that buy seafood from Thailand are at risk of receiving products tainted by slavery, according to this report, which was released on Monday. The report catalogs deceptive recruitment practices, hazardous working conditions and very severe violence on fishing boats and in processing factories.

Most of Thailand’s seafood workers are migrants from neighboring Cambodia or Burma, brought into Thailand illegally by traffickers, provided fake documents and often actually sold to boat captains, the report said. On fishing boats, these workers routinely face limited access to medical care for injuries or infection, work 16 hour days, seven days a week, endure chronic sleep deprivation, and suffer from an insufficient supply of water for drinking, showering or cooking, the report found. They are not free to quit or leave. Often they are “kept” for year or even extended periods of time. The evidence of abuse is often just buried at sea. One Burmese worker said, “When someone dies, he gets thrown into the water.”

We reported on this sad state of affairs two years ago with the hope that conditions would improve. The Thai ambassador to the US says they take the problem seriously, but while they have clamped down a bit, it’s still not nearly enough.

Other human casualties of the animal products industry include those who work in slaughterhouses. While there’s no suggestion of slavery, slaughterhouse workers also face well documented abuses and very dangerous working conditions.

While authorities try to improve these problems, the best answer is to go veg. You’ll not only stop supporting worker abuse, but you’ll help the animals and the environment as well.

Remember the Workers

Cesar Chavez poster

Cesar Chavez poster image

It’s Labor Day, so don’t forget the workers.

We’ve often written in the past about the health, environmental and animal welfare problems associated with meat production. But at this time of year, let’s take a moment to remember the workers who often face very exploitative and harsh conditions in that industry as well. Please visit our posts on slaughterhouse workers, fishing boat workers and the famous labor leader Cesar Chavez to learn more.

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