People working in the US poultry industry including heavily pregnant women have resorted to wearing nappies because of a "climate of fear" over taking toilet breaks, according to a shocking report by Oxfam.
Oxfam America's No Relief, based on three years of research, claims workers on the processing line routinely face the unhealthy and humiliating reality of being denied adequate bathroom breaks.
"I was stunned when poultry workers in Arkansas told me that people regularly wear diapers to work in the plants," said Minor Sinclair, director of Oxfam America's US programme. "They feel they have to put up with this, to keep their jobs. The supervisors do whatever they can to keep the line running at breakneck speed, and the companies turn a blind eye, as they're racking up record profits. It feels like something out of the jungle, from a hundred years ago, but it's happening right now. It just isn't right."
According to the report, a worker at a Simmons Foods plant in Arkansas told Oxfam that she and many others resorted to wearing nappies (diapers is the US term). A Tyson Foods worker said in the report that many workers at his North Carolina plant "have to urinate in their pants."
"In the course of hundreds of interviews, only a handful of workers reported that their bathroom needs are respected," Oxfam reported. "These exceptions are primarily in plants that have unions, which offer important protections, inform workers of their rights, and ensure they have a voice on the job."
One witness, Jose, said he saw many women crying about not getting to go to the bathroom, even if they were menstruating. He added supervisors sometimes taunted the line workers.
In the report, a woman called Dolores is quoted as saying: "I had to wear Pampers. I and many, many others had to wear Pampers." She added she felt like she had "no worth, no right to ask questions or to speak up".
Simmons said the allegations were "troubling" and the refusal of bathroom breaks isn't tolerated. Tyson said it was concerned by the claims, but currently has "no evidence they're true".
The National Chicken Council says it believes that "such instances are extremely rare".
The report calls on Tyson Foods, Pilgrim's, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms to lead the way in ensuring that workers have bathroom breaks necessary to stay healthy, safe, and respected at work. In the report, Oxfam also calls on the companies to make several policy and practice changes.