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Poultry Workers, Denied Bathroom Breaks, Wear Diapers: Oxfam Report

When contacted by NBC News, all of the companies, except for Sanderson Farms, replied with statements denying the allegations.
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Workers process chicken at a poultry processing plant.AP file

Poultry workers are routinely denied basic needs such as bathroom breaks to the point of being forced to wear diapers while on the line, a new report claims.

The processing plant workers are mocked or ignored by supervisors when they ask to go to the bathroom, says Oxfam America, the U.S. arm of the global organization dedicated to solving poverty and social injustice.

As a result, employees "restrict intake of liquids and fluids to dangerous degrees; they endure pain and discomfort while they worry about their health and job security," the report said. The conditions are particularly trying for women who are menstruating or pregnant, the report added, citing unnamed workers who it interviewed over a period of three years.

The scathing report, released Wednesday, also alleges that employees wait for an hour or more in long lines to use the bathroom and risk getting punished or fired if they don't accomplish their work within a certain time frame.

"What would be shocking in most workplaces happens far too often in poultry plants: Workers relieving themselves while standing at their work station," the report said. "Too many workers tell stories about urinating on themselves, or witnessing coworkers urinating on themselves."

Some have "made the uncomfortable decision to wear adult diapers to work" to avoid having to ask to leave the line and risk being punished, it continued.

The group named Tyson Foods Inc., Perdue Farms Inc., Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., and Sanderson Farms Inc., quoting workers there using pseudonyms.

"Jean, from a Tyson plant in Virginia, says that even though she’s diabetic, 'I don’t drink any water so I won’t have to go,'" the report said.

When contacted by NBC News, all of the companies named in the report, except for Sanderson Farms, replied with statements denying the allegations. Sanderson Farms' Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Mike Cockrell said the company had no statement.

Tyson Foods rejected the notion that employees' requests for bathroom breaks are denied.

"We’re concerned about these anonymous claims and while we currently have no evidence they’re true, are checking to make sure our position on restroom breaks is being followed and our Team Members’ needs are being met," it said.

Perdue Farms said employees receive two 30-minute breaks during each eight-hour shift.

"If an associate has a health or other reason why they need more frequent restroom breaks, they can visit the onsite Wellness Center for support services or talk with Human Resources to request an accommodation for their condition," it said.

Pilgrim's Pride called the health and safety of its employees "core to who we are as a company" and said the Oxfam claims, if true, would be "clear violations of company policy."

The National Chicken Council and the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association also responded, questioning whether the Oxfam report was blowing the allegations out of proportion.

"We’re troubled by these claims but also question this group’s efforts to paint the whole industry with a broad brush based on a handful of anonymous claims. We believe such instances are extremely rare and that U.S. poultry companies work hard to prevent them," it said.

Conditions of the poultry industry have come under fire before — such as in the 2008 documentary "Food Inc.," which examined factory farming and big corporations' influence in the food industry.

After releasing its report, Oxfam America called on poultry companies to change their policies using the hashtag "#GiveThemABreak" on social media.

Animal rights nonprofit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has documented abuse in the meat industry, used the Oxfam report to push consumers to stop eating meat.

"Like the workers, these animals are stripped of their dignity and their inherent worth as living beings, all so others can have a fleeting, low-cost meal. The only conscionable move anyone can make in the face of such cruelty to workers and to animals is to go vegan," PETA Senior Director Colleen O’Brien said.