Workers in American beef, pork, and poultry slaughtering and processing plants perform dangerous jobs in difficult conditions. Dispatching the nonstop tide of animals and birds arriving on plant kill floors and live hang areas is itself hazardous and exhausting labor.1 After slaughter, the carcasses hurl along evisceration and disassembly lines as workers hurriedly saw and cut them at unprecedented volume and pace.
What once were hundreds of head processed per day are now thousands; what were thousands are now tens of thousands per day. One worker described the reality of the line in her foremans order: Speed, Ruth, work for speed! One cut! One cut! One cut for the skin; one cut for the meat. Get those pieces through! Said another: People cant take it, always harder, harder, harder! [mas duro, mas duro, mas duro!].
Constant fear and risk is another feature of meat and poultry labor. Meatpacking work has extraordinarily high rates of injury. Workers injured on the job may then face dismissal. Workers risk losing their jobs when they exercise their rights to organize and bargain collectively in an attempt to improve working conditions. And immigrant workersan increasing percentage of the workforce in the industryare particularly at risk. Language difficulties often prevent them from being aware of their rights under the law and of specific hazards in their work. Immigrant workers who are undocumented, as many are, risk deportation if they seek to organize and to improve conditions.
Meat and poultry industry companies do not promise rose-garden workplaces, nor should it be expected of them. Turning an eight hundred pound animal or even a five pound chicken into tenders for the supermarket checkout or fast food restaurant counter is by its nature demanding physical labor in bloody, greasy surroundings. But workers in this industry face more than hard work in tough settings. They contend with conditions, vulnerabilities, and abuses which violate human rights.
Employers put workers at predictable risk of serious physical injury even though the means to avoid such injury are known and feasible. They frustrate workers efforts to obtain compensation for workplace injuries when they occur. They crush workers self-organizing efforts and rights of association. They exploit the perceived vulnerability of a predominantly immigrant labor force in many of their work sites.2 These are not occasional lapses by employers paying insufficient attention to modern human resources management policies. These are systematic human rights violations embedded in meat and poultry industry employment.
Any single meatpacking or poultry processing company which by itself sought to respect the rights of its workersand hence incurred additional costswould face undercutting price competition from other businesses that did not. What is required are large scale changes to health and safety and workers compensation regulations and practices and greater protection of workers right to organize, in particular that of immigrant workers, throughout the meat and poultry industry.
To date, the industry as such has shown little inclination to work collectively to increase respect for workers rights, either through trade association standards or through joint support for legislative safeguards. But an equal or greater responsibility for halting workers rights violations in the meat and poultry industry lies with government at both federal and state levels. Only governmental power can set a uniform floor of strengthened industry-wide rules for workplace health and safety and for workers compensation benefits. Only government agencies can effectively enforce workers organizing rights and ensure effective and timely recourse and remedies for workers whose rights are violated. Only government agencies can provide the strong legal enforcement required to deter employers from violating workers rights. Finally, only government policy can change the vulnerable status of the hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers in the meat and poultry industry.
Unfortunately, as this report shows, the United States is failing on all these counts. Health and safety laws and regulations fail to address critical hazards in the meat and poultry industry. Laws and agencies that are supposed to protect workers freedom of association are instead manipulated by employers to frustrate worker organizing. Federal laws and policies on immigrant workers are a mass of contradictions and incentives to violate their rights. In sum, the United States is failing to meet its obligations under international human rights standards to protect the human rights of meat and poultry industry workers.
Key findings of this report arise in three main areas of meatpacking and poultry workers rights:3
o Many workers suffer severe, life-threatening and sometimes life-ending injuries that are predictable and preventable.
o Many workers cannot get the compensation for workplace injuries to which they are entitled.
o Government laws, regulations, policies and enforcement fail to sufficiently protect meat and poultry workers health and safety at work and their right to compensation when they are hurt.
o Many workers who try to form trade unions and bargain collectively are spied on, harassed, pressured, threatened, suspended, fired, deported or otherwise victimized for their exercise of the right to freedom of association.
o Labor laws that are supposed to protect workers freedom of association have fundamental gaps, and government agencies fail to enforce effectively those laws that do purport to protect workers rights.
o The massive influx of immigrant workers into meat and poultry industry plants around the country means that a growing number of workers are unaware of their workplace rights.
o Because many of the workers are undocumented or have family members who are undocumented, fear of drawing attention to their immigration status prevents workers from seeking protection for their rights as workers from government authorities.
o Meat and poultry industry employers take advantage of these fears to keep workers in abusive conditions that violate basic human rights and labor rights.
o U.S. immigration and labor law and policy fail to respect and ensure the rights guaranteed to all non-citizen workers, irrespective of their immigration status, by international human rights law.
Detailed recommendations to employers and to federal and state governmental authorities are contained in Chapter IX. The findings of this report support the following broadly-framed recommendations:
This report covers workers rights in the U.S. meat and poultry industry in three broad areas of human rights concern: worker health and safety and related rights to compensation for workplace injuries, freedom of association, and the status of immigrant workers. It follows Unfair Advantage: Workers Freedom of Association in the United States under International Human Rights Standards, a Human Rights Watch report published in 2000.4 Based on an examination of a dozen industrial and service sectors of the U.S. economy in as many states, Unfair Advantage documented widespread violations of workers organizing rights and severe deficiencies in the content of U.S. labor law and in the labor law enforcement system.
In Blood, Sweat, and Fear we focus on workers rights violations in the beef, pork, and poultry slaughtering and processing industry. The report concentrates on workplace health and safety, workers compensation, workers organizing rights, and the status of immigrant workers because our research uncovered systemic violations in these areas.
The report draws from research, interviews, and visits in 2003 and 2004 to three geographic centers of the industry: Omaha, Nebraska for beef; Tar Heel, North Carolina for pork; and Northwest Arkansas for poultry. It also draws from research undertaken during 1999-2000 for Unfair Advantage. Although major areas of beef, pork, and poultry production exist in other parts of the United States, these three locations were selected for the geographic diversity among them and their reflection of each of the three major product segments in the industry.
Human Rights Watch researchers conducted in-person interviews with dozens of meat and poultry workers and telephone interviews with several others. Most current employees did not want to be identified, fearing retaliation by their employer if their names appeared in the report. Workers who agreed to the use of their names are identified in the report. The report also draws on interviews with community organization and union representatives, workers compensation attorneys, ergonomics experts, government officials, and other professionals with relevant experience and expertise.
Human Rights Watch also conducted a lengthy telephone interview with representatives of Tyson Foods at company headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas. Officials of Smithfield Foods chose to respond to inquiries in writing rather than in an oral interview. Human Rights Watch appreciates these companies willingness to respond to questions and to affirmatively state their policies and views. Officials of Nebraska Beef did not respond to telephoned, mailed, and e-mailed requests for an interview.
Finally, Human Rights Watch researchers examined legal pleadings, rulings, and transcripts of proceedings; injury reports, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and workers compensation records, company memoranda, government and academic studies, books on the meat and poultry industry and on working conditions in the industry, and relevant newspaper and magazine articles.
 See Appendix A for a detailed description of work inside meat and poultry plants.
 See text accompanying footnote 286 for a description of the variety of legal statuses held by non-citizen workers in the United States, some of whom actually have permission to work in the United States but may still remain vulnerable to employer coercion for a variety of reasons.
 It was obviously not possible for Human Rights Watch to interview workers and research working conditions in all of the hundreds of factories in the U.S. meat and poultry industry. While still being generally characteristic of the industry, our specific findings may not apply to all workplaces at all times.
 The report is available on Human Rights Watch website at www.hrw.org/reports/2000/uslabor. Unfair Advantage was republished by Cornell University Press in 2004 with a new introduction and conclusion; information available online at: http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/cup_catalog.taf?_function=detail&Title_ID=4256&_UserReference=E21681E42CBB2735419A8A18, accessed on November 16, 2004.
 See Nebraska Beef, summary information, Omaha World-Herald, March 23, 2003, p. 23B; John Taylor, Nebraska Beef Investor Wants Answers, Omaha World-Herald, December 16, 2000, p. Business 20; John Taylor, Operating in Obscurity, Nebraska Beef Shrouds Identity of Owners, Omaha World-Herald, December 10, 2000, p. Business 1 (noting that the identities of the current owners are shrouded in mystery); John Taylor, Surprises Mark Plants First Year: Beef Firm Spars with Neighbors, Omaha World-Herald, August 11, 1996, p. Business 1.
 See Kristin Collins, What is the future of the family farm? Raleigh News & Observer, January 25, 2004, p. A21.
 See Sandra Yin, Home and Away, American Demographics, March 1, 2004, p. 2.
 These proportions are estimates by researchers from the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which maintains an organizing office near the Tar Heel plant and carefully tracks employee demographics. See also Greg Barnes, Bladen links up with hogs fortunes, Fayetteville Observer, December 18, 2003, p.1.
 See Smithfield Foods Annual 10K Report for fiscal year ending April 27, 2003, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, file no. 1-15321.
 According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1.18 billion chickens were slaughtered in Arkansas in 2002. See Tom Darin Liskey, Pilgrims Pride Feathers Its Arkansas Nest, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 16, 2003, p. 73. On what becomes of the chicken waste, see M. Nelson, K. White, and T. Soerens, Illinois River Phosphorus Sampling Results and Mass Balance Computation, in Proceedings of Arkansas Water Resources Center Annual Research Conference, Arkansas Water Resources Center, Fayetteville, Arkansas (2000); T. Soerens, E. Fite, and J. Hipp, Water Quality in the Illinois River: Conflict and Cooperation Between Oklahoma and Arkansas, Diffuse Pollution Conference Paper (2003). The Illinois River runs through northwest Arkansas into Oklahoma.
 See Jesse Katz, 1,000 Miles of Hope, Heartache: Aspiring Factory Workers Abandon Desperate Lives to Enter Human Pipeline from Mexican Border to Poultry Jobs in Middle America, Los Angeles Times, November 10, 1996, p. 1.
 See Matthew Walker, Poultry, Construction Jobs Draw Hispanics, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 16, 2003, p. 71.
 Available online at: http://www.tysonfoodsinc.com/corporate/info/today.asp, accessed on November 16, 2004.
 See Tyson Foods Annual 10K Report for fiscal year ending September 27, 2003, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, file no. 0-3400.