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Europe: Poor working & housing conditions at meat packing plants responsible for COVID-19 outbreak among workforce, report alleges

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of workers at meat processing plants across Europe have become infected with the virus. A new report by the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT) identifies poor working, employment and housing conditions as one reason for the rapid spread of COVID-19 among the industry's predominantly migrant workforce. 

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the companies named in the report to respond. Danish Crown, 2 Sisters, Asda (Kober), Moy Park, Smithfield and Litera Meat responded. Tönnies, Westfleisch, Vion, Van Rooi Meat, Oscar Mayer, Groupe Sicarev, Kermené, LDC Groupe and Lovenfosse Groupe did not respond.

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4 August 2020

Netherlands: Meat workers allegedly 'forced to deny coronavirus symptoms'; MPs call for investigation

Author: DutchNews.nl

"Meat packers ‘forced to deny coronavirus symptoms’, MPs call for answers", 3 August 2020

MPs are calling for an investigation into possible illegal practices concerning workers’ health at a meat packing plant in Helmond and are urging government action.

Workers at Van Rooi Meat, one of the largest slaughterhouses in the Netherlands, told public broadcaster NOS that managers at the plant had urged them to tick the ‘healthy’ box on the daily declaration they are required to sign, even if they had symptoms of coronavirus.

The eight workers who spoke to the broadcaster are from different European countries and work via a jobs agency. They said they had continued to work even when they showed symptoms of coronavirus because they were afraid they would no longer be called in for work.

In May the company had to close for two weeks when a large number of workers were found to be infected with coronavirus. According to the workers the first of two probes by the local health board had been manipulated because they had been told to stay at home.

Van Rooi director Marc van Rooi has denied the allegations, saying his primary concern was to keep the company coronavirus free.  He also denied that sick workers would lose their jobs. ‘Let them say tick ‘yes’ on the form [to say they have symptoms, DN] and let’s see what happens,’ he told NOS...

Read the full post here

8 July 2020

Groupe Sicarev did not respond

8 July 2020

Kermené did not respond

8 July 2020

LDC Groupe did not respond

8 July 2020

Lovenfosse Group did not respond

8 July 2020

Oscar Mayer did not respond

Company response
8 July 2020

Response by 2 Sisters

Author: 2 Sisters

[full response attached]

3 July 2020

The report states that 2 Sisters Food Group’s chicken processing plant in Anglesey said it would close for a fortnight after local health authorities confirmed there to be 58 cases of coronavirus among staff on site, out of a workforce of 560 people. 

We are a responsible business with people at its core. The health, safety and wellbeing of our colleagues is our absolute priority. When the pandemic first hit the UK, we put measures in place at the Anglesey site in accordance with government guidance on the prevention and control of Covid 19 infection. 

The plant operated successfully and safely for three months without a single Covid-19 case recorded. Unfortunately, despite the best endeavors of all on site to control the introduction and spread of the virus, further action was needed after the first case was reported on May 28th. We therefore took the decision to voluntarily temporarily suspend production for 14 days from June 18th. 

To illustrate how seriously we took this outbreak and underline how our people must always come first, it is worth noting that we were the only food production business in the UK affected by Covid-19 who took the decision to temporarily close a site for a period of 14 days. Many have remained open. 

We have worked throughout in collaboration with Public Health Wales, Anglesey Council, the Health & Safety Executive, the FSA and the Unite union who have all offered great advice, scientific knowledge and support, and we thank them for their help and guidance. 

We have fully supported our colleagues during closure and will continue to do so as the site reopens. 

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Company response
8 July 2020

Response by Danish Crown

Author: Danish Crown

[full response attached]

2 July 2020

The report outlines the need for policy action at EU level, while focusing on the German situation. Hence our response will have the same focus, however, we underline that our initiatives are broader.

Several months prior to the COVID-19 outbreak Danish Crown were already in the process of evaluating the possibility of recruiting more contract workers as permanent workers...

The allegations related to excessive working hours - up to 16 hours a day - are not recognised by any of our sites...

[W]e have 3rd party auditors monitoring the pay roll and working hours records for contract workers... Unreasonable deductions are not reported from any of the statutory audits...

[W]e have provided the necessary PPE...

Ongoing reminders of social distancing and other recommendations to stay safe has been communicated... No reports have been made related to anyone feeling compelled to go to work...

Danish Crown generally audit the accomodation for contract workers on an annually basis... During the COVID-19 outbreak we have increased such audits and more has been conducted by our own employees...

The "Verhältnis Kodeks" and the "Freiwillige Selbstverpflichtung" [...] have changed a lot for the better in the German meat industry... True changes will only be reached if the German Government enacts legislation, which effectively ends the excessive use of contract workers in Germany...

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Company response
8 July 2020

Response by Litera Meat

Author: Litera Meat

July 2020

Since last March, Litera Meat has developed and implemented an action plan including different measures aimed at reducing and stopping the effects of COVID-19. This plan, which is still ongoing, has been and is periodically revised and updated to increase safety and reinforce prevention in the face of this pandemic disease. 

Anticipation and working in tandem with the sanitary authorities and affiliated trade unions has been essential...

After doing PCR tests on all the employees of the Company, who are over a thousand, the resulting positive cases were less than 1.6% of the workforce. Due to the strict protocol carried out during the last months, currently there are no positive cases among the employees of Litera Meat, which has its own Human Resources Department to manage recruitment and look after the health and rights of all staff. Therefore, from the starting of the activity Litera Meat never used the services of working cooperative then 100% of workers has been contracted directly. 

The contingency plan keeps in effect until today the actions and measures implemented from the beginning...

Among the latest actions added to the contingency plan, the incorporation of medical staff into the Company’s facilities so as to quickly identify any symptoms compatible with COVID-19, more transport options for employees to be able to keep due social distance, mandatory educational programmes on COVID-19 done in-company, regular disinfection by nebulising the entire Company’s facilities and outbuildings using a wide-spectrum virucidal agent, installation of security plastic screens in the workplace and addition of the COVID-19 test to the pre-occupational medical check-up so that new employees are also tested to prevent the existing personnel to be exposed to any related hazardous situation are specially worth mentioning. 

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Company response
8 July 2020

Response by Smithfield

Author: Smithfield

[full response attached]

6 July

The report inaccurately states that our facility in Starachowice, Poland, temporarily closed. To clarify, while some areas of the facility were shut down for a short time, the facility continued to operate and remains operational. 

At the core of Smithfield’s COVID-19 response is an ongoing focus on employee health and safety, and continued adherence with the State Sanitary and Epidemiological Inspection (SANEPID) guidance. Here is a list of the aggressive measures we have taken to protect our employees in our Poland facilities: 

- Adopted a series of stringent and detailed processes, protocols and protective measures that follow, and in many cases exceed governmental requirements 

- Boosted personal protective equipment (PPE) to include masks and face shields

- Installed plexiglass and other physical barriers on our production floor and in break rooms... 

- Implemented mass thermal scanning systems...

- Increased social distancing...

- Adjusted the start and end time of shifts

- Added abundant hand sanitizing stations 

- Enhanced cleaning and disinfection 

- Explicitly instructing employees not to report to work and recommending they contact a health care center or SANEPID if they are sick or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms

- Requiring sick employees to stay home and isolate 

- Offering all quarantined employees paid leave equating to 80% of an average of the last 12 months’ salary...

- Offering paid leave for all employees age 60 or above and/or disabled and/or at higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19...

- Providing an extra governmental nursery care benefit...

- Instituted additional sanitary precautions and rented additional flats to support social distancing in areas where housing is provide...

Stressing importance of personal hygiene

Posted employee communications in multiple languages...

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