While many are quick to question the treatment of chickens within the US poultry industry, a new report from advocacy group Oxfam America says the workers suffer as well. According to the study, workers within the industry are routinely denied adequate bathroom breaks and remain silent because they fear punishment, ridicule or firing. Because of this, some say they have reached the point of wearing adult diapers while on the job.
The report features interviews with employees representing a number of the nation’s largest poultry processors including Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Simmons Foods, Sanderson Farms and Perdue. Many of the workers used pseudonyms due to a fear of retribution.
What Oxfam discovered was nothing less than shocking. Workers reported supervisors mocked or ignored their requests to use the bathroom, and they had to wait more than an hour to be excused. When they did get a chance to use the bathroom, they often had inadequate break times, sometimes as little as five minutes.
Workers say they have at times urinated and defecated while standing on the line and have resorted to wearing diapers to avoid embarrassment. Others report restricting the intake of liquids to dangerously low levels. In response to the allegations, the US Poultry & Egg Association and the National Chicken Council say, “The health, safety and respect of our employees is very important, and we value their contributions in helping to produce our food. We are troubled by these claims but also question this group’s efforts to paint the whole industry with a broad brush based on a handful of anonymous claims. We believe such instances are extremely rare, and US poultry companies work hard to prevent them.”
The industry groups say traditionally many companies plan restroom breaks and employ extra people to cover for workers when they need a bathroom break. Tyson Foods responded to the report, saying it values each of its team members and treats them with respect. “If they need a restroom break, we have extra people who can fill in for them. We do not tolerate the refusal of requests to use the restroom.” The company did say it is concerned about the claims and is reviewing its policies to ensure its employees’ needs are being met.
The report can be read here.