Risk factors

Working conditions

The intensive nature of industrial animal agriculture and the subsequent stages of slaughtering and processing expose the industry to a range of labour risks, from health and safety to poor worker rights and human rights abuses.

Key stats

83
%
of companies – 50 companies valued at $264 billion – do not discuss the human rights due diligence process they undertake to identify, prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses in business operations.

The livestock and farmed fish sectors are increasingly under scrutiny on labour conditions. The issues are localized and market specific. In emerging markets such as Brazil and Thailand, slavery and human rights abuses are widely prevalent in meat and aquaculture sectors respectively. In the US, the predominant concerns are around worker health and safety: serious injuries that require days away from work or work restrictions are three times higher in the meatpacking industry than in other industries.

There are two emerging areas for increased investor scrutiny and engagement. Farm workers and their families are increasingly vulnerable to multidrug-resistance bacteria due to routine use of antibiotics. Multiple studies in Iowa, Pennsylvania and North Carolina have found that pork farm workers and communities close to pig farms were in some instances six times more likely to carry the multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) compared to the general population.

Another issue in the US is industry lobbying for increased slaughter line speeds, which critics have said will increase worker injuries. The US Department of Agriculture has approved an increase of line speeds from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute in the poultry sector and is considering a similar rule in the pork sector.

We assess whether a company has a human rights policy and due diligence process in place, their commitments on fair working conditions in direct operations and the supply chain, the type of health and safety management in place and the injury and fatality data disclosed, and how active the company is supporting freedom of association.

Results

  • 32% of companies do not disclose work-related injury and fatalities, showing a lack of disclosure of basic metrics.
  • Only 26% of companies describe how compliance with labour policies is monitored in both direct operations and the supply chain, though 62% have a whistleblowing system in place.