Trade unions raise the alarm bell in the EU as new human rights and labor abuses put further strain on the global meat sector
Brussels, 2nd March 2022 | As the Brazilian Public Ministry of Labour, backed by corporate interests, is about to amend NR 36 regulations which govern health and safety in the country’s meat industry, representatives of the IUF, IUF Latin America and EFFAT, met today with German MEP Bernd Lange, Chair of the International Trade Committee at the European Parliament. Trade unions exposed the negative consequences of such measures also in view of the current draft of the EU-Mercosur trade agreement: Worsened working conditions for hundreds of thousands of meat workers in Brazil would lead to unfair competition of products made under much weaker labor and environmental standards with major repercussions on agri-food sector in the EU and Mercosur countries.
Following 15 years of national and international campaigning for safer meat and poultry workplaces, the adoption of NR 36 in meat and poultry processing in 2013 was a major advance in Brazil and inspired the adoption of similar standards throughout Latin America.
Repealing or amending this measure would:
- Undermine the health and safety of over 500, 000 workers in an industry rampant with injuries.
- Deny the participation of workers and their trade unions in developing and monitoring health and safety in the workplace in line with international standards including C155 on occupational health and safety.
- Cause unfair competition in the EU meat sector, exacerbating the social dumping already embedded in the system
World leader in poultry exports, Brazil also provides for 25% – 40% of EU beef. A 2020 study estimates that 17 % of the meat the EU imports from the Amazon may have been produced in illegally deforested areas putting further strain to the indigenous communities. As the EU – Mercosur agreement is expected to further increase trade between the EU and Mercosur countries, this reality is in complete contradiction with the EU Pillar of social rights and the ambitious environmental targets set by the EU through the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy.
Kristjan Bragason, EFFAT General Secretary, said: ‘’The fight of our Brazilian colleagues is our fight. At EFFAT we think that international trade should never lead to a global race to the bottom in terms of rights and working conditions through unfair competition.’
Sue Longley, IUF General Secretary said: ‘NR36 is an inspiration to trade unions around the world fighting to improve occupational health and safety. This year the International Labour Organisation will be moving ahead with the proposal to upgrade occupational health and safety to be a fundamental principle and right at work. Undermining or destroying NR36 would be in complete contradiction to international developments on occupational health and safety.’
Gerardo Iglesias, IUF Latin America Regional Secretary: ‘Some ten to twenty thousand indigenous workers are employed in Brazil’s meatpacking plants. The repeal of the NR36 would be greatly detrimental to the communities who turn to hours-long commuting to meatpacking plants and other large industries for employment because they’re left with little land due to deforestation and illegal plantation.’
Trade unions sought wider support in the European Parliament as the NR36 withdrawal would represent not only a real threat to health and safety of the Brazilian meat workers but also a major source of unfair competition here in Europe with economic and social consequences in the sector. Finally, EFFAT has also urged the EU to consider such working people struggles when reviewing the EU policy with respect to its trade and sustainable development chapters.
EFFAT position on Mercosur