By Keara O’Bryen
One cannot deny the interconnectedness of all that is – whether this is a manifestation of oppression and violence or liberation and kindness. Our social and economic systems are a pandemic of violent and exploitative practices that lack reciprocity and promote inequity – sustainable for those that refuse to see the continuation of oppressive systems in our current operations or the ones that perpetrate the violation of the rights of all living beings. Agribusiness is an example of a pervasive system of victimization and oppression.
The mechanization of life is a crime against Earth and Earth’s people – all of Earth’s people. Just like newborn chicks tossed in shredders and baby calves being kidnapped and killed from mothers, humans are being exploited too – including children. Recently, as many as 102 children were found to be working overnight cleaning the killing machines used to slaughter our interspecies kin being forced to clean the blood from these deadly and sharp machines with dangerous chemicals. One 14-year-old girl was described as having chemical burns on her knees. The most vulnerable populations are often trafficked for their labor where they are tricked into being promised jobs to live a life that provides for a family, just to be stuck in a debt, being paid a wage that no one can live on and so they are working to pay off a debt to the individuals who promise the jobs, and left no choice but to remain to pay off the debt. They are forced to work inhumane amounts of hours and often these jobs are ones that are dangerous and toxic to one’s health, physical, mental, and spiritual. Children as young as 13 were found and this $2.73 billion company paid a $1.5 million fine or $15,138 per child.
There has been no indication the Department of Homeland Security is investigating Packing Sanitation Services Inc (the company these children were found working for), only whether or not they were being exploited by outside traffickers. No man or woman – let alone child – should have to endure such torture just to make barely enough money to eat, let alone eat for health. Robello, an investigator for the Department of Labor informs us that “these jobs are often filled by immigrants who are desperate for work.”
In a 2020 article “Confessions of a Slaughterhouse worker” the author describes the horrors he and his fellow workers experienced. He even talks about his colleague that committed suicide after breaking down. That they would try to numb and dissociate but over time they would just start crying. Many workers describe moral injury, depression, and frequent anger. When one is subjected to such cruelty it frequently becomes displaced, which then further perpetuates violence. Also similar to Stockholm Syndrome, the workers that are stuck in these situations, may take on an aggressive-like attitude a defense mechanism of the mind to protect oneself from processing these actions they have been forced to take, a form of dissociation.
Our systems don’t care if one is human, an other- than -human -species person. This is why it is referred to as “the machine” removing sentience from living beings, selling our planet for symbolic units of power, and quantifying worth for what should be the quality of worth, ethics and care, and loving kindness. The machine works by stratifying beings based on any difference that can be found that deviates from the hegemonic archetype of the dominant anthropocentric white supremacist patriarchal cisgendered able-bodied, heterosexual identity that values only its kind, and both shuns and exploits all others. The Earth(ling) Industrial Complex.
For this week’s Anuvrat, I encourage readers to think about the victims of agribusiness, from the animals killed for their flesh to the children and migrant workers exploited for their labor, and make a commitment to separate yourself from this system as best as you can: leaving animals and their products off your plates.
Keara O’Bryen holds an MSW from Stony Brook University’s School of Social Welfare and volunteers with the animal advocacy organization Humane Long Island. Her main areas of interest include interspecies justice, humane education, policy, research, ecofeminism, and ecotherapy.