15 March 2010 | Jake Kanter
Workers in UK factories supplying meat to some the biggest supermarkets are suffering “widespread mistreatment and exploitation”, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The organisation’s 15-month investigation, published on Saturday, found that agency and migrant staff were subjected to poor labour conditions at meat and poultry processing suppliers.
The inquiry, which included 140 interviews with meat workers, focused on the differences in treatment of temporary and permanent staff at the plants.
Workers reported verbal and physical abuse, as well as a lack of proper health and safety protection. They also had a poor understanding of their rights and feared losing their jobs if they raised concerns with managers.
One-fifth of those interviewed said they had been pushed, kicked and even had products such as frozen hamburgers thrown at them by line managers. Verbal abuse was said to be a daily occurrence.
Other workers were refused toilet breaks. Concerns were also raised about the treatment of pregnant staff, with women attributing miscarriages to a lack of proper support.
The EHRC urged retailers to play a bigger role in supporting and monitoring vendors. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority should also be better resourced to safeguard the welfare and interests of workers, it added.
EHRC director general Neil Kinghan said: “While most supermarkets are carrying out audits of their suppliers, our evidence shows that these audits are not safeguarding workers and they clearly need to take steps to improve them.
“We recognise that some retailers and processing firms have taken steps to operate in a way which improves the treatment of workers in the sector. However, there is still a lot that they and others could do.”