A spokesperson from Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls allegedly told a VICE reporter that “living circumstances in certain cultures” and a “large immigrant population” are to blame for the 725 cases of COVID-19 amongst staff.
Smithfield workers interviewed by the BBC beg to differ: Kaleb, an employee of 12 years, locked himself away from his children, out of fear he might pass on the virus. Neela and Ahmed — who are expecting their first child — have started living in separate bedrooms since Ahmed’s positive diagnosis.
Rather than blaming the cultures of its diverse workforce, Smithfield might like to look at its own cultural problems. These apparently include the failure to translate COVID-19 notices from English — despite workers speaking up to 80 different languages — maintaining tightly packed locker rooms, and only giving staff hairnet-style masks for their protection. The factory-floor work — cutting up pigs — allegedly required workers to stand within one foot of their co-workers. Workers are discouraged from taking breaks; some even wearing diapers on the floor.
Moving forward, let’s hope that Smithfield shows kindness to its workforce, instead of making prejudiced assumptions. And if Smithfield is serious about bettering its cultural reputation after this crisis, it should transition its business model to cruelty-free, environmentally friendly vegan meat production, for which there is ever-growing demand.