The Intertwined Exploitation of Turkeys and Humans

Tomorrow, when family gather all across the United States at dinner tables with a roasted carcasses as the centerpiece it's not just the turkeys whose exploitation they'll be benefiting from. After all, these birds don't just fall out of the sky wrapped in plastic with their heads, feet, feathers, and guts removed – the latter, of course, being placed in a small bag and shoved back inside – it takes the labor of some of the most exploited humans in the U.S. to make all that happen.

In Facing South, Desiree Evans discusses the exploitation of the human workers in "The Hands Behind the Turkey." Among the issues discussed in the article are the exploitation of im/migrant labors, hazardous working conditions, lack of corporate accountability and government oversight, union busting, and environmental injustice. While asking us to "take a moment to reflect on the hidden costs of bringing that food to your table," Evens explains that:

Throughout the South, in rural areas along the hog belt and poultry belt, thousands of workers labor in poultry and meatpacking plants, sorting, cleaning, pulling, deboning, gutting, cutting, slicing and packaging turkeys, chickens, and hogs every day. Whether for Virginia-based Smithfield Foods or Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, these workers perform some of the most dangerous factory jobs in the nation and are subjected to repeated injury and inhumane treatment. Yet their plight is often overlooked. These workers have very few rights in an industry that has been allowed to exploit its workforce due to a lax regulation and enforcement.

Moreover, many of the workers doing the dangerous work of meatpacking are immigrants, often undocumented, and thus more exploitable. Companies have increasingly come to rely on an immigrant workforce that may not complain about harsh conditions for fear of being fired or deported.

The exploitation of turkeys, pigs, and other animals slaughtered for humans to eat is intertwined with the exploitation of the humans who do the actual slaughtering. That is, an exploitable class of human animals makes it possible to exploit other animals. Adequately addressing one form of exploitation requires that we address the other.