LONDON –The Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) initiative recently released a report that detailed concerns about major meat companies and investors regarding the working conditions in processing plants.

The organization believes that poor labor practices at meat processing facilities could be contributing to labor shortages in the sector, which present ongoing financial risks that impact the business and lead to production setbacks. 

“FAIRR’s investor members are increasingly concerned by the financial risks associated with poor working conditions in many of the leading global meat producers,” said Jeremy Coller, chair and founder of the FAIRR initiative and chief investment officer for Coller Capital. “Poor working conditions disrupt operations, erode health and safety standards and are a clear financial risk for investors in meat companies. During Covid, the meat sector stepped up to address labor risks, however many of these improved policies have been reversed.”

Companies listed by FAIRR included JBS S.A., Tyson Foods Inc., Sanderson Farms, Cranswick PLC, Marfrig in Brazil, and WH Group which owns Smithfield Foods. 

According to information from the American Immigration Council provided by FAIRR, job postings for meatpacking workers increased by 86% between 2017 and 2021.

The group also stated that many sick pay benefits introduced during the height of the pandemic were repealed or weakened.

FAIRR said four meat companies repealed enhanced policies or did not report sick pay to the group.

The firm said that Sanderson Farms offered enhanced sick pay during the height of the pandemic but has since reverted to legal minimum requirements. 

Tyson also started some provisions for sick employees, however, hourly workers still do not receive paid sick days, unless required by laws, negotiated in collective bargaining or specified in a pre-existing policy. 

Tyson does pay short-term disability for up to 13 weeks.

"Beginning January 1, 2022, Tyson Foods implemented a policy to provide full-time, hourly team members earned time off (ETO) in the event time off from work is needed for personal or health related reasons," Tyson said in a statement to MEAT+POULTRY. 

"In addition, our team members also have access to full health care on day one of employment."

Tyson provided information about other benefits that are available to employees

FAIRR said it found that Marfrig upped its disclosure across four key areas: grievance mechanisms, sick pay, the distribution of its workforce across employment contract types, and worker representation.

Smithfield stood by its benefit programs and worker safety standards. 

“The health and safety of our employees is a top priority, and we continuously work to improve safety performance across all of our locations,” the company said. “Our global health and safety program team and our safety engagement culture drive continuous improvements companywide, helping to strengthen our best-in-class worker safety record. We provide our employees and their families with a wide range of benefits, including insurance plans, a retirement savings plan, wellness programs and paid time off, and we are steadily focused on efforts to make our company an even better place to work.” 

“We have rolled out dozens of initiatives to enhance employee engagement and communication and improve onboarding processes and on-the-job training. We have increased pay, adopted more flexible policies and instituted new training programs to help our team members advance their careers.”

JBS did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.  

More details and information about FAIRR and the report can be found here.