Chicken manufacturing is a notoriously squalid industry. For years, animal-rights activists have decried the ways in which the birds are cooped, slaughtered and handled, and in 2015, John Oliver, the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, launched a scathing tirade against large, multinational chicken companies like Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, and Perdue, who have been accused of forcing independent farmers into inescapable wells of poverty for profit.
But if there weren’t enough reasons to be wary of “Big Poultry” already, there certainly are now. A chilling new report from Oxfam America, titled “No Relief,” claims that employees working in chicken plants are routinely denied bathroom breaks as supervisors “mock their needs and ignore their requests.” Fearing punishment or firing, employees are essentially forced to wear diapers while they work, urinating and defecating right where they stand.
“[T]hey restrict intake of liquids and fluids to dangerous degrees; they endure pain and discomfort while they worry about their health and job security,” the report reads. “And it’s not just their dignity that suffers: they are in danger of serious health problems.”
Released on Wednesday, the document features interviews with dozens of workers, activists, attorneys, and medical experts. Many employees, both past and present, chose to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. While the conditions are harrowing for all, Oxfam notes that female workers often bear the brunt of the humiliation.
“[Women] face biological realities such as menstruation, pregnancy, and higher vulnerability to infections; and they struggle to maintain their dignity and privacy when requesting breaks,” the report reads. “By its nature, it is demanding and exhausting work. But it does not have to be dehumanizing, and it does not have to rob people of their dignity and health.”
As Quartz notes, U.S. safety laws require employers to provide workers with access to a bathroom. Still, the law is difficult to enforce on such a large scale, and workers (despite a culture of reprisal) have had to take matters into their own hands, launching campaigns for regular bathroom breaks.
"While the poultry industry today enjoys record profits and pumps out billions of chickens, the reality of life inside the processing plant remains grim and dangerous,” Oxfam writes. “Workers earn low wages, suffer elevated rates of injury and illness, toil in difficult conditions, and have little voice in the workplace. Despite all that, though, workers say the thing that offends their dignity most is simple: lack of adequate bathroom breaks, and the suffering that entails.”