Several poultry companies and a leading trade association have defended the industry, following a report from Oxfam America claiming that plant workers have to wear diapers because they are not allowed bathroom breaks. The report, entitled “No Relief,” said that employees are routinely denied opportunities to take bathroom breaks during the workday and must soil themselves while working on their lines.
The National Chicken Council and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association released a joint statement in response to the report. It reads:
“The health, safety and respect of our employees is very important, and we value their contributions in helping to produce our food. We’re 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 that U.S. poultry companies work hard to prevent them.
“Although individual practices vary by company, restroom breaks are planned for any production line. Most facilities also employ extra people to cover for production workers who request a bathroom break. In addition, medical-related situations are taken into account and accommodations are made.
“Coordinating restroom breaks in the workplace is certainly not unique to the chicken industry. Whether it’s a cashier, bus driver, bartender, bank teller or just about any manufacturing job, there are practices in place related to restroom breaks that are clearly outlined to the employee.”
Oxfam specifically mentioned the four largest poultry processors (Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms), stating that they “can and should implement changes that will improve conditions for poultry workers across the country.” Two of those companies released statements defending the treatment of their employees.
“We value our Team Members and treat 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.
“We’re concerned about these anonymous claims and while we currently have no evidence they’re true, are checking to make sure our policies on restroom breaks are being followed and our Team Members’ needs are being met.
“We also already use an independent audit firm to assess working conditions in our plants to make sure our Team Members are being treated with dignity. The auditors interview dozens of workers and focus on areas like worker treatment, compensation and safety.
“We listen to our Team Members through many channels to make sure they’re being treated fairly. In addition to their supervisor, they can talk to someone in human resources, plant management or one of our chaplains. They can also anonymously contact the Tyson Help Line (1-888-301-7304) or Tyson Web Line, which are managed by the company’s Ethic and Compliance office and are available 24 hours a day in multiple languages.
“We’ve previously met with officials of Oxfam America and the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center to discuss their concerns. We’ve told them that while we believe we’re a caring, responsible company, we’re always willing to consider ways we can do better.”
“The health and welfare of our associates is paramount and we take these types of allegations very seriously. The anecdotes reported are not consistent with Perdue’s policies and practices. Perdue has an Open Door Policy which includes an anonymous toll-free hotline to voice concerns. Our internal review did not find any of these complaints. We asked Oxfam for additional information so we can investigate these allegations but they did not respond to our request.
“Regarding bathroom breaks, our associates receive two 30-minutes breaks during each eight-hour shift. They typically work 2 to 2½ hours, have a 30-minute break, work another 2 to 2½ hours and have another 30-minute break, then work the remainder of the shift. If an associate is unable to wait for the scheduled break and needs to use the restroom, they are to be given permission to leave the line as soon as someone can cover for them. If a department is short-staffed that day, there may be times it is difficult to provide immediate coverage. If an associate has a health or other reason why they need more frequent restroom breaks, they can visit the onsite Wellness Center for support services or talk with Human Resources to request an accommodation for their condition.
“We are proud of our associates and their commitment to the wholesomeness and quality of our products, and to workplace safety. We are pleased that in a survey of more than 16,000 associates conducted in November of 2015, 90 percent of our associates were positive about their jobs and 88 percent were positive about safety and working conditions.”
To read the Oxfam report, go to http://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/research-publications/no-relief/.
(Updated to note that the NCC/USPOULTRY statement was a joint release.)
Source: Oxfam America, Tyson Foods, Perdue, National Chicken Council, USPOULTRY