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COVID-19 and workers in food and beverage supply chains


The COVID-19 pandemic brings into sharp focus the importance of effective food supply chains. Yet it also shines a light on long-standing power inequalities and exploitative working conditions, which are often exacerbated during this crisis. 

COVID-19 related impacts on workers in food and beverage supply chains include a lack of worker voice (for example, dismissal of unions leaders under the pretext of COVID-19) and a lack of respect of the rights of workers in vulnerable conditions, such as women workers, migrant workers, seasonal and temporary workers, workers from indigenous groups, and economically vulnerable workers. Negative impacts of the pandemic on labour rights can be observed around the world in both food processing and production (impacting for example workers producing soft drinks or processing meat) and in particular at commodity level, i.e., impacting workers picking fruits, salad, and vegetables, or producing goods such as palm oil or seafood. 

Impacts on workers cover a range of ILO indicators of forced labor, in particular

  • Abuse of vulnerability: Workers picking fruit and vegetables in Peru, working in unsafe conditions without appropriate social distancing, report being threatened with dismissal if they do not show up to work when ill  
  • Restriction of movement: Workers in a rice mill in Nigeria were locked into the mill for nearly three months and forced to work throughout lockdown
  • Isloation: Mexican migrant workers working on farms in Canada were not allowed to leave the farm they worked on allegedly due to COVID-19 (a rule not applicable to Canadian workers)
  • Physical and sexual violence: Union members in the meat processing sector in Brazil calling for better protection against the pandemic were met with violent police attacks.
  • Intimidation and threats: Migrant workers in the US meat processing plants are threatened with termination if they call in sick
  • Withholding of wages: 25,000 tea workers in India face hardship and hunger due to unpaid wages 
  • Abusive working and living conditions: Migrant workers on Spanish farms live in cardboard and plastic shelters without food or running water
  • Excessive overtime: Women workers picking bananas in Ecuador face excessive working hours and concerns over leaving vulnerable family members alone at home

This section features news and reports on the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak on workers in food and beverage supply chains.

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Related stories and components

Article
8 August 2020

Australia: Seasonal worker program must be reactivated and expanded to avoid food shortage

Author: Michael Rose, The Guardian

"Without seasonal workers, Australia may face a hungry summer", 3 August 2020...

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Article
3 August 2020

Spain: Migrant fruit pickers stranded as virus spreads

Author: Euractiv

"In southern Spain, fruit pickers ditched as virus spreads," 3 August 2020...

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Item
24 July 2020

Brazil: Meat companies blamed for spread of Covid-19

Author: The Guardian (UK)

"‘There's a direct relationship’: Brazil meat plants linked to spread of Covid-19", 15th July 2020...

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Item
24 July 2020

IHRB explores impacts of Covid-19 pandemic on Asian migrant workers

Author: IHRB

The coronavirus crisis has brought issues of inequality and injustice in society into the spotlight…...

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Story
23 July 2020

Australia & New Zealand: Pacific seasonal workers facing health and income support challenges; UN calls for protection

Without a day set for their return home due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, seasonal workers are suffering from depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) call Pacific...

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Article
23 July 2020

Canada: Migrant agricultural workers experiencing a food crisis

Author: rabble.ca

"Migrant agricultural workers experiencing a food crisis," 23 July 2020...

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Story
22 July 2020
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Organizações da sociedade civil brasileira, como Conectas, Associação dos Empregados Rurais do Sul de Minas Gerais (ADERE-MG), Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores Assalariados e Assalariadas Rurais (CONTAR) e Business & Human Rights Resource...

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Article
22 July 2020

Coronavirus clusters: why meatworks are at the frontline of Australia's 'second wave'

Author: The Guardian

Three new Covid-19 clusters have emerged in Brooklyn, Tottenham and Colac in Victoria... As Victoria enters a “second wave” of Covid-19 infections, Australian meat processors have found themselves at the frontline of exposure and infection, with...

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Report
21 July 2020

Oxfam publishes good practice guide for food retailers on human rights in supply chains

Author: Oxfam

"From risk to resilience: A good practice guide for food retailers addressing human rights in their supply chains", 21 July 2020...

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Article
20 July 2020

China: Worker protests on the rise as businesses struggle with new economic reality created by COVID-19 pandemic

Author: China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong)

“Worker protests on the rise in June as wage arrears proliferate”, 15 July 2020...

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