Equal opportunities in abattoirs

4. august 2022

More automation in the meat industry should give women better opportunities for work.

The work in abattoirs in Norway is characterized by physically demanding and little automated work, with a production line that will benefit from efficiency improvements. This practice is changing, and automation of the sector will provide opportunities for better quality, hygiene and working conditions.

In the RoBUTCHER project, Norsus examines how the social sustainability linked to the meat sector is affected by automated tools replacing manual labour in the butchering of pigs.

Social Life Cycle Assessment

The method Norsus use for this is called Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA), where the social conditions for various groups who are affected by a project or a sector are considered by evaluating various impact categories that are important for these groups.

One of the stakeholder groups they are looking into, and which is particularly important when it comes to automation, is the abattoir workers. For this group, things such as working conditions, payment, working environment and workplace ergonomics are important factors that all affect their social conditions, and thus also the meat industry’s social sustainability.

Equality goals

One of the goals of RoBUTCHER is to work for a greater degree of equal opportunities for men and women who work at the abattoirs. This is in line with the goal of gender equality in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal No. 5.

The indicators used to assess whether women and men have equal opportunities are the number of women who work in the sector, the possible wage gap between the sexes and to which extent measures are taken to help increase the number of women.

Women greatly underrepresented

When it comes to the number of women in the sector, Norsus findings so far show that in the abattoirs today, with a lot of manual and physically heavy work, women are strongly underrepresented. But with automation and the way that will change the work, it will become significantly less physically demanding work.

The Meat factory cell developed in the project will require different qualifications and most likely a different educational background for the workers than what a traditional butcher has today. In a survey sent to different groups in the meat industry and within the project, almost 60 per cent of the respondents answered that they believed that women would get more job opportunities after the automation.

But this does not mean that it will be easy to increase the proportion of women in the industry. For example, education in robotics and engineering will become more relevant for a worker at an automated slaughterhouse. Women are also clearly underrepresented in these fields today, with only 16 percent of women occupying jobs in artificial intelligence in the EU and the UK.

Recruitment important in the transition

This tells us that in the transition to a different working environment in meat cutting, it will be important to include and invest in female candidates for the work, so that even after automation you do not end up with a large preponderance of male workers.