I often hear “Why are you so worried about animals? What about the human rights issues?” Being a vegan and animal-rights advocate and humanitarian are not mutually exclusive. One feeds into the other in multiple ways.
When I rail against the treatment of agricultural animals at factory farms and slaughterhouses, one thing seems to get swept under the rug: who is committing these atrocious behaviours? We are presented with these clandestine videos of horrific abuse perpetrated on these innocents, and we heave a collective cry of “Animal Abuse” and that is what we tend to focus on: the action of the abuse and the suffering of the non-human animal on the receiving end.
What about the person behind the steel-toed boots and heavy work gloves? Who is he/she? (I will continue on with this article using the pronoun “he” for simplicity’s sake) Why would anyone take a job like this? Are they really ok with this behaviour? Do they behave this way with their own pets or children? WHAT THE FUCK?
I was perusing Twitter this morning and saw a post by @agargmd stating the animal agriculture business is not a friend of minorities and migrant workers and the American diet supports the industries and politicians who continue to oppress these peoples.
BING! I had an Oprah Lightbulb Moment that flashed like stick lightning striking ground.
Of course! An industry of oppression uses the oppressed to fuel it.
The Guardian states: “Most farm work in America is performed by immigrants, most of whom are undocumented and therefore exploitable. The big agribusinesses that hire these immigrants will tell you that they need an unfettered supply of cheap foreign labor, because they cannot find Americans willing to do these jobs.”
Another quote: “According to a report compiled by Eric Ruark (pdf), the director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (Fair), as of 2006, only 27% of workers hired by agribusinesses are American citizens, 21% are green card holders, around 1% are part of the guest worker program … and a whopping 51% are unauthorized immigrants.”
50 PER CENT are unauthorized immigrants! Holy fuck!
In Canada, upwards of 25,000 migrant workers are brought in legally to do work farmers need which citizens apparently won’t do; the exact number of undocumented migrants was estimated in 2004 as more than 36,000, doing a variety of jobs such as cleaning, nannying, labour and farm labour.
Ok so there is no shortage of illegals to hire for these less-than-desirable jobs in the agricultural industry. These people face working conditions which just barely meet industry standards in most cases, risking life and limb daily. In 2004 Tyson received a citation for an employee who inhaled hydrogen sulfide and was asphyxiated – did I read that right? A CITATION? For a death?
Between 2003-5, Maple Leaf Farms was issued 18 violations and fines for unsafe practices including hazardous machines and chemicals, and a number of other unsafe procedures.
Child labour is a thing too. 57 Guatemalen under-age workers were found at a kosher meatpacking plant in Iowa. What the ACTUAL fuck?
Clearly, this industry is death for everyone: humans and non-humans alike.
These migrant families work in this industry because even an unregulated salary is better than no salary at all. The farmers not only have these people by the pursestrings but also by the heartstrings, as they are working towards a better life for their family than they had in their home country. Unable to legally enter the country for various reasons, they resorted to illegal channels and are forced to take whatever job is available no matter how abhorrent and with no safety net of lawful protocol with which to protect themselves.
So here is one way Animal Rights meets Human Rights.
By policing these industries and advocating for animals, we are also assisting humans caught in this cycle of oppression and suppression. We are educating the public at large not only of the great inhumane treatment of innocent non-human animals, but also the inhumane treatment of men, women and children caught up in this life or death system which functions right under our noses, in our neighbourhoods, down our streets, in our backyards.
Yeah, right there.
And we are blind to it, because we prefer to look away from nastiness and pretend it isn’t happening. Because we see our “food” (read animal flesh) packaged up nice and cleanly in open freezers with little fake parsley garland at the edges and Enya playing on the overhead speakers. Get those rose-coloured glasses off, peeps, there is as much inhumanity being perpetrated in our own country as in those we castigate as barbaric and condemn to outer reaches of civilization.
We are animals too; Animal Rights includes us all.