Worked to the Bone: COVID-19, the Agri-Food Labour Force, and the Need for More Compassionate Post-Pandemic Food Systems (preprint)

Published on Jul 1, 2021in Social Science Research Network
Sarah Berger Richardson (U of O: University of Ottawa)
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Abstract
The coronavirus pandemic has rendered visible the previously invisible labour that gets our food from farm to fork for minimal pay and at great personal risk to workers’ health. From grocery clerks working on the front lines without protective equipment, to truckers denied entry to restrooms, to temporary foreign workers forced to sign liability release waivers, to disease transmission at meat processing facilities, the virus is revealing the frailties and the inequities of our food system. Although the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented, the ways the global food supply chain has responded to the crisis were, in fact, predictable. For years, scientists and food policy experts have been warning that our food system was broken, and that policies geared towards efficiency and cheap food were exploitative of the agri-food labour force, the animals we raise and slaughter for food, and the ecosystems we inhabit. This chapter focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on labour, with particular emphasis on the meat processing industry. It also seeks to illustrate the interconnectedness of all actors across the supply chain and the need for greater compassion as we rebuild post-pandemic food systems.
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