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Smithfield Foods Uses Racist Stereotypes To Blame Migrant Workers For Covid-19 Outbreak At Its Own Processing Plants

Smithfield Foods, the meat industry giant facing mounting questions over its handling of the coronavirus crisis, repeatedly failed to protect its workforce at several processing plants scattered across the country. One of its processing plants – in South Dakota – became the country’s single largest hotspot of the Coronavirus outbreak with more than 300 workers testing positive for Covid-19.

Instead of addressing their own shortcomings and lack of protocol to address the health crisis and worker and public safety, the company decided to blame its own workforce – the majority of whom are migrant workers – for the outbreak.

The company blamed “living circumstances in certain cultures” for the outbreak at their processing plants.

Smithfield Foods, which recently had to shut down a pork production plant after more than 350 workers tested positive for COVID-19, is blaming immigrant workers for the coronavirus outbreak.

A spokesperson said “living circumstances in certain cultures” enabled the rapid spread of the disease. Employees and investigations into the outbreak, however, show Smithfield made a number of missteps in managing early signs of the outbreak, including concealing infections and compelling employees to work without protection.

“Living circumstances in certain cultures are different than they are with your traditional American family,” she explained. The spokesperson and a second corporate representative pointed to an April 13 Fox News interview in which the governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, said that “99%” of the spread of infections “wasn’t happening inside the facility” but inside workers’ homes, “because a lot of these folks who work at this plant live in the same community, the same buildings, sometimes in the same apartments.”

The South Dakota Smithfield plant that was closed now has well over 700 COVID-positive people, and those related to them, in the area, a major hot spot in the United States.

New details show how Smithfield Foods failed to take action in the crucial days before the plant turned into one of the nation’s largest coronavirus clusters.

Credit: Paul Rovern / Getty

Employees at Smithfield plants across the U.S. say that the company concealed Covid-19 infections at plants and pressured them to work elbow to elbow without protection. The company was even offering employees $500 bonuses if they didn’t miss a single day of work in the month of April.

A recent CDC report detailing measures the company should adopt to better protect its workforce also points out the plant failed to provide translations of important announcements.

The recommendations included practicing social distancing of at least six feet, installation of barriers where social distancing is not possible, the use of face coverings to mitigate the spread of respiratory droplets, providing face masks to employees and replacement face masks if those masks should become soiled.

The report also recommended secondary screening packets be translated into other languages commonly spoken in the plant to improve communication with employees.

Smithfield has a long history of mistreatment of its workforce – many of whom are in the U.S. as guest workers.

Credit: Darrel Sapp / Getty

Smithfield, which owns meat plants across the country, has a long history of worker injuries and fatalities. The company often uses foreign guest workers, many of whom have reported abusive treatment. In 2007, a number of guest workers from Thailand working in Smithfield plants reported slave-like conditions. The workers later reached a confidential settlement with Smithfield and a recruiting company called Global Horizons.

Smithfield Foods finally closed its South Dakota plant and is being forced to reevaluate its workplace conditions to protect workers and public health.

The plant is now closed indefinitely, cutting the country off from about 5% of its national pork supply. With 725 confirmed cases among workers and 143 more traced to them, the Smithfield outbreak has eclipsed most of the country’s worst-hit nursing homes and prisons among the largest community outbreaks. One Smithfield worker, 64-year-old Agustin Rodriguez, died on April 14 from COVID-19 complications.

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