Unveiling Exploitative Practices in the Meat Industry

During the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers were recognized for their vital contributions to keeping our country running, spanning industries such as childcare, transportation, and the food industry. New research and investigations however, shed light on the grim reality faced by many workers, like those in meat processing and demonstrate how unethical companies used our countries need and a lack of proper monitoring as an opportunity to cut corners and exploit their employees. In some instances, putting profit over the lives of their workers.  

Duvan Tomas Pérez," "teen worker," "child labor," "meat processing industry,"
Photo of boy who was killed at chicken plant, age 16. Image Credit: The New York Times. 2024. Retrieved from online article.

A recent investigation of the Labor of poultry giants Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods revealed the dangers of businesses cutting corners to increase profits. A practice that can escalate to exploitation and human trafficking with the addition of force, fraud, or coercion. Migrant children as young as 13, hired illegally for overnight shifts to clean meat processing plants, exemplify the depth of this issue. Despite laws mandating that the cleaning and maintenance of meat processing only be conducted by adults, this is not the first time the meat industry has illegally charged children with this dangerous task.

In July of 2023, at a Mar-Jac Poultry Plant, a 16-year-old boy was pulled into a chicken processing machine and killed. Mar-Jac Poultry provides chicken for places like Chick-fil-a and boasts “60-years of Responsibility” on its company website. This was the second death at the facility in two years, though the lack of a machine killswitch, an OSHA violation, was previously documented. Similar deaths and serious injuries in other plants have occurred since the loosening of laws after increased need from events like COVID-19. These injuries mark not only the loss of limbs but also the loss of childhood and a potential perpetuation of poverty and vulnerability for already disenfranchised kids. 

The increase in child labor violations since 2015 highlights an urgent need for action. Despite fines imposed by the Labor Department a normalized culture of non-compliance persists, disproportionately impacting immigrants and people of color. Populations that are already at an increased risk of being targeted by traffickers.  

Addressing the root causes of exploitative employer practices requires a multifaceted approach, including community-based initiatives, increased penalization, and enhanced enforcement. It is also important that we continue to educate workers of their rights, support caretaker’s financial wellness, and foster collaboration between organizations combatting employee exploitation, law makers, and businesses.  

Improving services to migrant families can decrease the need for families to accept risky and exploitative offers by businesses. Additionally, holding unethical companies accountable for child labor helps to combat child trafficking and increases safeguards to promote the dignity and rights for individuals of all ages.  

Unsure of how to start in your community? Contact Framework at 

Learn More:

Policies for States and Localities to Fight Oppresive Child Labor

16-year-old Boy Dies in a Meat Poultry Plant

Industrial Slaughterhouse Illegally Employing Children

Death World Economy: Race, Meat Processing Planets, and COVID-19

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