A friend sent me a news article from Watt Ag Net over the weekend about Tyson Foods launching a contract grower’s Bill of Rights and I had to laugh, uproariously. My first thought was that it’s very presumptuous of the chicken company to imply that American citizens Bill of Rights and its guarantees come from Tyson. Wow, how much kinder can one get?
The bill of rights that Tyson is granting to the farmers the company contracts with to grow chickens is supposed to be an eight-point promise for its farmers. Supposedly other initiatives are included which are “aimed at promoting a more transparent growing process and better communication” between the company and roughly 3,600 independent contract growers.
If you’ve noticed that I emboldened the word “independent” it’s for a reason. Many don’t know that the farms that contract with companies, such as Tyson, don’t belong to the company, they belong to the individual holding the mortgage payments and they are NOT employees of the company. That single fact invalidates any claim to granting a “bill of rights” to individual persons who just happen to have a contract to grow the company chickens. The relationship between those people and the chicken company is for the purpose of raising company owned chickens to a marketable age. Period!
Changing the wording from “bill of rights” to “pledge” the company goes on to say that a full copy of the “pledge” is available on the Tyson website.
Graciously, Tyson is pledging the following:
- The right to a written contract
- The right to information detailing how much they are paid
- The right to discuss their contract with outside parties
- The right to a fixed-length contract that can only be terminated for cause
- The right for the poultry farmer to terminate the contract with Tyson Foods for any reason or no reason at all by giving a 90-day prior written notice for broilers and turkeys, and a 60-day written notice prior to scheduled removal of poultry from farmers housing for hens and pullets.
- The right to join an association of contract poultry farmers
- The right to poultry welfare standards and training on poultry welfare standards
- The right to tell Tyson first, or freely contact the company with concerns
Sorry to burst your bubble folks, but the so called “pledge” is a nothing burger. Most of the above is anyone’s rights under the law and it’s not up to Tyson or any other company to decided that it will pledge these rights to the people it contracts with.
Number 4 is a tricky one and as I always say, it’s all in the words, folks! Fixed length contracts have been around for a while and can be terminated for “cause”. There’s the word that makes it the company’s decision, anytime. It’s already been decided by the courts that for a contract grower to show harm (wrongful termination of contract, etc.) that person must show overall harm to the entire industry. Secondly, a fixed-length contract is not a guarantee of receiving chickens to raise from the company.
Number 5 should say that the grower can terminate the contract only for cause. Just like the company clause for contract termination. Instead there are a number of requirements for the contact grower to terminate the contract for the reason of allowing the company to make advanced preparations to place their chickens elsewhere.
The right to join an association of contract poultry farmers, number 6, is the one that I found to be so funny. For years contract growers have claimed retaliation by chicken companies for participating in “grower associations”. Some have reported threats made by company personnel for even thinking about joining grower associations. Of course, chicken companies have vehemently denied retaliatory actions, but I have to wonder if this new pledge by Tyson is saying that they will NOW allow contract growers to join grower associations and no longer retaliate. For those of you not familiar how this subject works, bluntly said, historically contract growers have been bullied, threatened (sometimes not so nicely), intimidated, and had contracts terminated for being a member of any unapproved by the company, grower association. Especially if you’re a vocal member. It’s really, really, REALLY, benevolent of Tyson to say it’s okay for contract growers to join any association they want to. Under the U.S. Bill of Rights, the First Amendment gives people the right to peaceably assemble, sorry Tyson, it’s the law!
Poultry welfare standards are a CYA by the company. In order for the company to be exonerated from any allegations of animal abuse they must say that they have a poultry welfare policy. This statement in the company pledge gives Tyson an out for any wrongdoing. The company can now claim that it’s the contract grower at fault because the company has a pledge of providing welfare standards and training. Most chicken companies already do this.
Number 8 is the killer of it all. The right to tell Tyson first, or freely contact the company with concerns.
There go those words again, folks! Carefully read the clause again. It means that if you have any concerns with company behavior, treatment, animal welfare, environmental and public health, or even if you have a tooth ache, etc., you tell the company first. Don’t call USDA Packers and Stockyards Administration for violations of the law, don‘t tell the press, don’t allow any camera’s on the farm, don’t call any environmental, public health, or animal welfare organizations, and for lord’s sake don’t tell your dog.
If the company makes contract growers sign this pledge, or any document related to this pledge, that contract grower will be bound by it. The pledge will be an addendum to the contract or called company policy. If the contract grower violates any of the signed pledge it will be “cause” for contract termination. However, it might be questionable as to whether this pledge or any related documents can be forcibly imposed upon a person.
Lastly, who in the hell does Tyson and its Einstein’s think that they are? Telling people what their rights are and saying that the company will grant those rights. Really? Another ploy to rope people in so they will think that they are investing millions of dollars into chicken house developments so they can raise chickens for such a kindhearted chicken company.