Working Conditions of the Meat Industry

Recognition of the inherent dignity and of equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person. These few words pretty much sums up the mission of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international non-governmental organization whose main focus is to ensure the wellbeing and the inherent rights to life that all human beings are entitled to.

By using means such as the media for example, Human Rights Watch sets out to not only insure that all human beings live their lives with dignity but to also bring to justice those who, through merciless dictatorships, suppress the happiness and basic human rights of their people. The purpose of this paper is to discuss my opinion on whether or not I agree with certain changes recommended by the HRW in regards to work safety when it comes to immigrant workers. I will provide my opinion and consider some of the utilitarian and deontological considerations.

In 1906, Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” uncovered harrowing conditions inside America’s meat packing plants and initiated a period of transformation in the nation’s meat industry. The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act were both passed later that year, and labor organizations slowly began to improve the conditions under which the country’s meat packers toiled. But some critics say America’s meat business has been in decline for decades and that the poor conditions found in slaughterhouses and packing facilities today are often little better than those described by Sinclair.

The Human Rights Watch was founded in 1978 as “Helsinki Watch” to support and protect individual dissidents and independent citizen groups in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The aim was to defend the rights of suppressed writers, scholars, and intellectuals, and to ensure that their governments complied with the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which, among other things, affirmed citizens’ rights to monitor the human rights practices of their own governments.

The first expansion came in 1981 when Americas Watch was established to demonstrate that human rights standards are universal and should be applied equally to governments of all political stripes. The HRW group investigated the meat and poultry industry’s unfair, unethical and inhumane practices and found that things needed to be changed. HRW recommended an assortment of things to change to include “new laws and policies should ensure respect for the human rights of immigrant workers, whatever their legal status.

Immigrants should have the same workplace protections as non-immigrants, including coverage under fair labor standards and other labor laws, and the same remedies when their rights are violated” and “New federal and state laws should reduce line speed in meat and poultry plants and establish new ergonomics standards to reduce repetitive stress injuries. Health and safety authorities should apply stronger enforcement measures. States should develop stronger worker compensation laws and enforcement mechanisms.

These changes were recommended because there is a massive influx of immigrant workers in the meat and poultry plants around the country. Also a significant number of these workers are unaware of their workplace rights. Many of these workers and their family are also undocumented and don’t want to draw attention to themselves. Because of their undocumented status, this prevents workers from seeking protection for their rights as workers from government authorities. The meat and poultry industry takes advantage of these fears and use it to their advantage.

They play on the fears of these undocumented workers to keep them in abusive conditions that violate basic human rights and labor rights. Regardless of someone legal status, no one deserves to work in unsafe filthy conditions. I do agree with the changes that the HRW put forth. I have to agree that the illegal and some legal immigrant population are unfairly taken advantage of. The meat and poultry industry has the duty to protect and provide a safe working environment for their workers and also provide for damages or injury in the event of it happening regardless of legal status.

Most of the nation’s 17. 7 million immigrant workers toil, like those who preceded them, in jobs that native-born Americans refuse to do. They work as meatpackers, hotel maids, hamburger flippers, waiters, gardeners, seamstresses, fruit and vegetable pickers, and construction hands. John Gay, a lobbyist for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, says there are places in this country where we wouldn’t survive without immigrants, which is pressing Congress to allow more “essential workers” into the United States. The trend is to push our own children into college to be rocket scientists or computer programmers. But who is going to do these hard jobs that we have? Who is going to change bedpans in a nursing home? Or change beds in hotels? ” Jobs in poultry plants across the South, once held almost exclusively by American blacks, are now dominated by Mexican immigrants. Textile plants run largely on the labors of Hipic workers. In the Kentucky coal fields, mining companies are considering recruiting miners from the Ukraine.

From a Utilitarian perspective, requiring meat packing lines to slow down will increase man hours and reduce productivity. If chain speeds were legislatively mandated to be reduce by 25 %, the same plants which currently lack management commitment to safe foods would continue to produce the same amount of contaminated food as it did prior to the forced reduction. The management would not be inclined to make changes which would cost money if they are losing money because of decreased production due to the reduction of the speed lines.

The meat and poultry industry does not promise rose-garden workplaces, nor should it be expected of them. OSHA offered special incentives to meat packers who entered into voluntary agreements with the agency to lessen their ergonomic hazards. While they would still be subject to OSHA inspections, they would not be cited or penalized on ergonomic grounds. From a deontological stance, food safety is compromised when production lines move too quickly for its line workers to properly assess risks. Working in the meat and poultry industry is a difficult job that I stated before most Americans would not do.

It is the meat packing companies’ duty to ensure our foods and the workers who process them are as safe as they can be. If speed lines were reduced, health risks to employees will reduced and our meats can be properly assessed thus resulting in less contaminated meats making their way to out grocery stores. In conclusion it is obvious to see that rights and responsibilities were not carried out by the meatpacking industry. They were greed driven business who “poisoned for profit” as President Roosevelt said.

The meatpackers had a right to make their product but did not take the responsibility to do it in a manner that was safe for the workers and the consumer. Thanks to the Human Rights Watch and people like Upton Sinclair and Theodore Roosevelt who was sickened after reading an advance copy of Sinclair’s book called upon congress to pass a law that established the Food and Drug Administration. The meat industry today takes the responsibility in making working conditions safer and producing meat safer for the consumer.


Blackwell, Jon. 1906: Rumble over ‘The Jungle’, retrieved 15 Jun 2011 from: Meatpacking in the U.S.: Still a “Jungle” Out There? (2006), retrieved 15 Jun 2007, from: Parker, Laura, USA just wouldn’t work without immigrant labor, (July 2001), retrieved 15 Jun 2011, from:

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