During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been reminded of the essential role farmworkers and meat processing communities in our food system, providing us with food to nourish ourselves and our families. Yet the pandemic exacerbated the conditions these workers face.
Despite their essential role in our food system, farmworkers, and especially migrant farmworkers, often endure poor working and living conditions, wage theft, and sexual harassment. Excess mortality among food and agriculture workers in California jumped 39% in 2020; for Latinx agricultural workers, the increase was 59%. Data shows that more than 57,000 meatpacking and more than 12,000 farmworkers contracted COVID-19 due to lack of protective equipment, close working conditions, and lack of access to testing and medical care. Tyson Foods has come under particular scrutiny after reports that managers at an Iowa plant placed bets on how many workers would contract the disease and following allegations that the company has the highest death rate—and three to four times the number of infected workers—among companies in the industry.
Mercy Investment Services and more than 20 other investors filed a shareholder proposal asking Tyson Foods to report on its human rights due diligence process to assess, identify, prevent and mitigate actual and potential human rights impacts such as those affecting workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the company’s annual meeting in February, 18.4% of shareholders voted for the proposal; however, because the Tyson Limited Partnership holds about three-fourths of Tyson shares, the vote reflects 78.7% support from independent shareholders, including large asset managers BlackRock and Vanguard.
Mercy Investment Services will continue urging Tyson and other companies in the food and agriculture sector to protect the rights and well-being of their workers.
*National Farmworker Awareness Week is March 25 – 31. To learn more about action you can take to support farmworkers, click here.