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Ethical approach to safety in meat packing industries

Safety standards in the meatpacking industry commands attention these days. Machines and assembly (or de-assembly I suppose) lines move faster and faster, posing ever greater risk to life, limb, or digit. With greater number of immigrant and undocumented workers laboring in the industry, concerns about safety loom larger. Let's have a look at the issue....

Abstract
In Nebraska, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is teaming up with Omaha-based Mexican Consul Jose Cuevas on a proposal to educate immigrants on workplace safety, Cuevas said.
OSHA in 2004 pledged to help provide training and oversight to meatpacking cleaning companies. The arrangement was prompted by a World-Herald investigation on the contract cleaning industry's history of severe injuries and OSHA violations.
Recommendations Human Rights Watch recommendations for protecting workers in the meat and poultry industry include: New federal and state laws to reduce production line speeds. Stronger state regulations to halt underreporting of injuries. Stronger worker compensation laws and enforcement of anti-retaliation laws. U.S. labor law compliance with international standards on workers' freedom of association. New laws ensuring workers' safety regardless of their immigration status.
The below explains the conclusions and recommendations of the Human Rights Watch with regard to work safety, particular where it concerns immigrant workers.
After examining three meatpacking plants, including one in Nebraska, the group Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that the United States is failing to protect that labor force.
A meat industry official dismissed the group as "way off mark" in its 175-page report titled "Blood, Sweat and Fear: Workers' Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants."
The American Meat Institute's J. Patrick Boyle said he would need that many pages to correct the "falsehoods and baseless claims."
The Human Rights Watch report contends that workplace risks and exploitation, especially of immigrants, are not occasional employer lapses.
The authors described what they called "systematic human rights violations embedded" in the fast-paced, high-volume meat and poultry industries.
Most of the report's concerns have been highlighted by news reports and area worker rights groups. But immigrant advocates said the weight behind Human Rights Watch provides new ammunition.
"It ups the ante because it focuses on human rights obligations in international treaties," said Lourdes Gouveia, an Omaha sociologist whose immigration research was cited in the report.
Human Rights Watch is a privately funded group whose goal is to hold governments accountable if they violate the rights of their people. Its researchers said they interviewed meatpacking workers and examined injury reports, government and academic studies, newspaper reports and legal proceedings.
They cited unsafe working conditions, denial of workers' compensation to those injured on the job, intimidation of those seeking to organize unions and exploitation of immigration status to ward off complaints.
Two of three corporations used as case studies responded to the researchers: Tyson Foods, on its Arkansas poultry plant, and Smithfield Foods on a North Carolina pork plant. Phone calls from The WorldHerald to the third corporation, Omaha-based Nebraska Beef, were not returned.
All three firms have operations in Nebraska.
The American Meat Institute disputed many aspects of the report.
Boyle, the institute's president, said the meat industry has seen a consistent decline in injury rates and illnesses. He said that the injury rate is "lower than ever" and that meatpacking plants are four times above the national average in union membership.
He said the report's author implied having firsthand knowledge of safety issues in plants that he never visited.
A group of 15 Nebraska labor unions and minority advocacy agencies endorsed the report. They said progress has been made in the industry and in public policy, but much remains to be done.
Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson said Tyson was "disappointed by the report's misleading conclusions but not surprised, given the author's extensive ties to organized labor."
Mickelson pointed to the company's new Team Members' Bill of Rights, modeled after Nebraska state law, which is to be put in plants across the country.
He said Tyson provides training, interpreters and on-site English classes. It invests millions of dollars, he said, in workplace safety and ergonomics and is developing robotic equipment for certain jobs.
Human Rights Watch contended that any single company seeking to rectify conditions would incur additional costs and be undercut by competitors. Thus, it said, state and federal governments have equal or greater responsibility to protect workers' rights.
In Nebraska, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is teaming up with Omaha-based Mexican Consul Jose Cuevas on a proposal to educate immigrants on workplace safety, Cuevas said.
OSHA in 2004 pledged to help provide training and oversight to meatpacking cleaning companies. The arrangement was prompted by a World-Herald investigation on the contract cleaning industry's history of severe injuries and OSHA violations.
Recommendations Human Rights Watch recommendations for protecting workers in the meat and poultry industry include: New federal and state laws to reduce production line speeds. Stronger state regulations to halt underreporting of injuries. Stronger worker compensation laws and enforcement of anti-retaliation laws. U.S. labor law compliance with international standards on workers' freedom of association. New laws ensuring workers' safety regardless of their immigration status.

Do you agree with these recommendations?
Be sure to frame your argument in utilitarian and deontological terms.
Article above citation"
Group criticizes packers Meat industry officials dismiss Human Rights Watch report Recommendations [Iowa, Nebraska Edition]
Cindy Gonzalez. Omaha World - Herald. Omaha, Neb.: Jan 26, 2005. pg. 01.B
http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=1&did=784462621&SrchMode =1&sid=8&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1236292621&cli entId=29440

For more information go to:
? Click Here for the US Department of Labor and OSHA's information on safety in the meatpacking industry
? Click Here for a VERY detailed report on Worker safety issues as related to Advanced Meat Recovery
Required Reading:
Improvements in workplace safety--United States, 1900-1999
MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report; Atlanta; Jun 11, 1999; Anonymous;

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SAFETY AT MEAT PACKING PLANTS

Let us begin by noting that these recommendations are hotly contested by the meat industry representatives. One of them blamed the Human Rights Watch people of not knowing what is going on in the meat industry: « He said the report's author implied having firsthand knowledge of safety issues in plants that he never visited. » This is patently false. The researchers of the report visited and examined « three meatpacking plants, including one in Nebraska. » Not only that, they also « interviewed meatpacking workers and examined injury reports, government and academic studies, newspaper reports and legal proceedings. » Also, the investigation, yes investigation, was carried out in the first place because, as it is stated at the very beginning, there were « severe injuries and OSHA violations. » Notice too that the industry spin doctors never denied that those things happened and are still happening. All they said was that accidents have reduced considerably. This is classic spin. They did not say how the accidents are reducing or exactly what they are doing to reduce them. Quite on the contrary, the risk of more injuries, not less, is increasing considerably with production lines that move faster, obviously for greater output: « Machines and assembly (or de-assembly I suppose) lines move faster and faster, posing ever greater risk to life, limb, or digit. With greater number of immigrant and undocumented workers laboring in the industry, concerns about safety loom larger. » Tyson Food said it invests millions of dollars « in workplace safety and ergonomics and is developing robotic equipment for certain jobs. » This is a tacit admission that there is a real problem. But one needs to ask why they are talking of those measures now after the fact? Instead of just talking about them, why don't they take the investigators to their plants to showcase their safety standards? For the above reasons, I would say that the reaction of the meat packaging industry is appalling. They should have concentrated on the substance of the report instead of advancing a straw man argument. (A straw man argument is an informal fallacy that misrepresents an opponent's position with another one that is easier to attack. That way an illusion of having refuted the original argument is created.) In this case they ...

Solution Summary

This post looks at the ethical issues concerning safety in the meat packing industries. How do we approach these issues from both the deontological and utilitarian perspectives?

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