A shareholders proposal that would require the board of directors at Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale to report on the company's due diligence in regards to human rights impacts gained 23 supporters.
A collection of religious organizations, led by the American Baptist Home Mission Society and many communities of nuns, called for the company's shareholders to vote in favor of the proposal. The proposal will be voted on at Tyson Foods' virtual annual meeting Feb. 11.
Similar proposals in recent years failed to pass by large margins. Investor Advocates for Social Justice said the 2020 proposal was supported by more than 58% of independent shareholders of Tyson Foods stock, although it collected just 14.5% of the vote due to the influence of Tyson Foods Limited Partnership, whose votes are more heavily weighed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to complaints about Tyson Foods' treatment of its workers. In a filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, the groups supporting the proposal said more than 12,000 Tyson Foods employees have tested positive and 39 have died from the coronavirus.
Tyson Foods is also the subject to several lawsuits brought by families of workers who have died from the coronavirus. The company fired seven managers at its Waterloo's pork production facilities after a lawsuit alleged they had started a betting pool on how many workers would catch the virus.
In its proxy filing in December, Tyson Foods' board of directors said it was opposed to the human rights proposal, which criticized its handling of the pandemic and its human rights record.
"We disagree with the implications raised in the proposal," the board said in the filing. "At Tyson, our top priority is the health and safety of our team members, their families and our communities. Moreover, early on in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we put in place significant protections at all of our facilities that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19."
The filing then listed a number of actions Tyson Foods has taken since the pandemic began. The company hired a chief medical officer, 200 nurses and said it is randomly testing thousands of workers every week in addition to installing safety shields and temperature scanners at facilities.
Tyson Foods announced earlier this month it would partner with Matrix Medical Network to provide education and access to the COVID-19 vaccines to any of its 119,000 U.S. employees who desired it.
In the supporters' filing Jan. 15, the groups said Tyson Foods has more than three times the number of infected employees than other meat production companies and more than twice the number of deaths.
"More generally, the board agrees that human rights due diligence is important and the company is strongly committed to promoting social responsibility and human rights in every area of its operations throughout the world," the board said in the filing. "The board believes the company's present policies and practices appropriately and adequately address the concerns raised in the proposal. Additionally, the board believes that a separate human rights report is not an effective way for the Company to 'assess, identify, prevent and mitigate actual and potential human rights impacts.' "