Four women employed by pork industry giant Smithfield Foods say they were retaliated against by the company and three lost their jobs as a result of reporting sexual harassment in a case settled outside of court, last year. Additionally, a former supervisor in Smithfield’s Tar Heel, North Carolina plant filed a suit in 2013 alleging that her boss had harassed her for four years, though that case was dismissed in 2018.
In an exclusive story with In These Times, ten of twelve workers interviewed at the Smithfield Foods plant in Virginia said they witnessed acts of sexual harassment such as inappropriate touching, sexual commentary, and favoritism based on sex.
Smithfield Foods is the largest pork processor in the world – and a company that employs over 46,000 people in North Carolina. Harassment was overlooked, according to In These Times, as long as processing continued at a quick pace.
“Management, they said, valued supervisors who could meet high production quotas, regardless of how they treated workers,” In These Times reported.
Women reported having genitals brushed against them, being groped, and being promised promotions and rewards in exchange for sexual favors with higher-ups. One woman reported that she was told by a supervisor that he wanted to fire all the black workers and replace them with Mexicans who “could get the job done for less pay.” The same man sent her a photo of his penis and engaged in other acts of harassment during a two-year period.
So far, much of the local coverage of the hog industry has focused on its impact on local communities and the environment. In 2017, the INDY published a three-part series documenting the environmental racism eastern NC residents experience, as their towns are taken over by cesspools of hog waste and the stench of dying pigs. These hazards are proven to be linked to a myriad of health problems and threaten the environmental safety of all North Carolina residents.
The company told In These Times no sexual harassment claims had been filed recently, despite the steward of Tar Heel’s United Food and Commercial Workers union claiming that she had assisted in filling out a sexual assault claim just days ago.
The world’s largest pork plant in Tar Heel has 4,400 workers. According to In These Times, of Smithfield’s employees nationally, in certain industries up to half are women, predominantly women of color. Black and native women are more likely to deal with sexual harassment, stalking, and rape in their lifetimes, while Hispanic women of any race are less likely to report a rape at all, even though they are more likely to endure sexual harassment and stalking than non-Hispanic women.
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