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Meat industry's biggest players exposing workers to abuse during pandemic reports KnowTheChain

·4 mins read

Suppliers to McDonald's, Burger King and Walmart pay out huge dividends but ignore forced labor risks

LONDON, Oct. 14, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- The world's four biggest meat companies are failing to take basic actions to protect the workers in their supply chains, despite making huge profits during the coronavirus pandemic.

KnowTheChain Logo
KnowTheChain Logo

A ranking of the food and beverage industry by KnowTheChain found that none of WH Group, Tyson, JBS and Hormel could disclose checks on new suppliers for forced labour risks, or any procedures to respond to allegations of worker abuse among existing suppliers. The companies - suppliers of meat to the likes of McDonald's, Burger King and Walmart - have paid out dividends totalling $1.5 billion during the pandemic alone.

Such failures, exposed in KnowTheChain's third benchmark report assessing the world's 43 largest food and beverage companies, increase the risk of the squalid conditions and outbreaks of Covid-19 seen in the meat industry this year.

Felicitas Weber, Project Director for KnowTheChain, said: "This isn't just a moral case," said Weber. "From a business perspective, investors are increasingly aware that protecting people will protect profits in the long term. Just look at Boohoo, a UK fast fashion company that after years of reports of poor working conditions has seen major buyers and investors cut ties."

KnowTheChain ranked the industry against the International Labor Organisation's core labor standards, examining policies and procedures to address supply chain forced labor. The big four meat companies performed especially poorly, with JBS and Tyson's approach having worsened in recent years. The organisation is now calling for swift action from both the companies and their investors.

KnowTheChain's research found that:

  • None of the 'big four' meat processors disclosed any procedures for assessing new suppliers for forced labor risks before entering into contracts with them;

  • None reported a process for responding to allegations of forced labor at suppliers;

  • None reported supporting suppliers through its purchasing practices, for example by making prompt payments, improving forecasting, or considering the costs of labor when agreeing prices;

  • None disclosed information on who in the company is responsible for implementing supply chain labor policies;

  • None reported engaging with supply chain workers' unions, or making any effort to support freedom of association in their supply chains.

"We've pointed out these failures before - now, with the stakes higher due to the pandemic, industry heavyweights seem to be doing worse, not better. This risks leaving workers unpaid when sick, left without suitable protective gear, and with no means to fight for their rights," added Weber.

María, a worker at a US turkey breeder and processor, spoke about the conditions she has worked in: "We work shoulder to shoulder. We're very close to each other … I've had a fever and flu symptoms, but I take Tylenol and keep working." She added: "If we get sick, or are not allowed to work due to the pandemic, we don't get paid."

KnowTheChain's analysis highlights good practice by others in the sector. Tesco, which scored highest in the ranking, and Unilever, which was second highest, have sped up payments to small suppliers through the pandemic and regularly engage with supply chain workers' unions. Strengthened relationships with suppliers and their workers has allowed companies like these to better navigate the pandemic, avoiding factory and store shutdowns.

KnowTheChain scrutiny has pushed investors to act in the past. After Monster Beverage scored 'zero' in the 2016 benchmark, shareholders pushed the company to adopt a supplier code of conduct that prohibits forced labor, to provide training on forced labor to procurement staff, and to require suppliers to put in place grievance mechanisms for their employees.

Contact: Oliver Courtney, +44 7815 731889, oliver.courtney@digacommunications.com.

Notes to editors

The full report is available here: https://knowthechain.org/

About the benchmark methodology

Companies were scored out of 100 against 21 indicators across seven themes covering areas including the extent to which their buying practices incentivised good labor practices among suppliers, their attempts to ensure supply chain workers are not exploited in the recruitment process, their efforts to engage with supply chain workers and their representatives, their efforts to respond to allegations of labor abuses in their supply chains, and their efforts to ensure remediation is provided to workers.

The 43 companies were given a score out of 100. The average score overall was 28/100, while the average score of the four meat companies was just 8.5. JBS and Hormel scored 12/100, Tyson scored 9/100 and WH Group scored just 1/100. Tesco scored 65, and Unilever 60. Monster Beverage's score increased from zero in 2016 to 26 in 2020.

About KnowTheChain

KnowTheChain—a partnership of Humanity United, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Sustainalytics, and Verité—is a resource for businesses and investors who need to understand and address forced labor abuses within their supply chains. It benchmarks current corporate practices, develops insights, and provides practical resources that inform investor decisions and enable companies to comply with growing legal obligations while operating more transparently and responsibly. knowthechain.org

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SOURCE KnowTheChain