Sydney, 23 July, 2020: The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) is calling on investors of Australian meat processing companies to actively and urgently engage with them over the issue of workplace health and safety.
Today, Inghams Group Ltd (ASX:ING) announced the closure of its Further Processing Plant in North Melbourne after it identified five COVID-19 cases at the plant.
This follows recent COVID cases at several other meat processing facilities: Cedar Meats, Pacific Meats and JBS.
“It’s startlingly clear: there is a strong connection between insecure modes of employment and increased COVID risk for frontline workers,” said ACCR Director of Workers' Rights, Dr Katie Hepworth.
“In the highly casualised meat processing industry, COVID-19 transmission is unsurprising. Workers are in close proximity to one another during long (often 12 hour) shifts, carrying out intensive, physically strenuous labour. Physical distancing barely exists in these environments.”
“Investors have a responsibility to engage companies on the composition of their workforce and to demand that the workforce is protected. By ensuring staff are safe and protected, they will be ensuring the security of the meat supply chain too - it’s a no brainer.”
“This is happening globally and we must heed the lessons. Around the world, meat processing factories have been a hotbed of infection. In the US, over 43,000 food production workers had contracted the virus by mid July. Similar risks have been highlighted in all jurisdictions.”
On July 3, ACCR published a brief for investors on the links between subcontracting and COVID-19 transmission in high-risk, frontline industries, highlighting the role that insecure employment played in the Cedar Meats cluster.
Proxy advisors, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) recently noted: 'The lack of paid leave provisions is reportedly enticing largely low-paid workers to continue to work despite the risk of exposure.'
A recent investor statement, published by institutional investor group ICCR, highlighting risks on COVID risk in the US meat industry, has been endorsed by 118 institutions with $2.3 trillion USD in combined assets. The statement calls for wage increases and rapid action on workforce safety.