The outbreak had already prompted the closure of daycare centers and schools in the district and the Robert Koch Institute, a public health body, linked a spike in Germany’s overall coronavirus reproduction rate directly to the plant. Armin Laschet, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, announced Tuesday that restaurants, bars and gyms in Gütersloh district would close for a week. Outdoor gatherings of more than two people are again prohibited.
Clemens Tönnies, a managing partner at the company, said on Twitter that the company will fund widespread coronavirus testing in Gütersloh to compensate the local community. He apologized for the outbreak and said the company carried full responsibility.
Tönnies, which exports about half its products, has 16,500 employees worldwide and generated revenue of €6.7 billion ($7.5 billion) in 2018. Founded in 1971 by Clemens’ late brother Bernd Tönnies, the company produces 850 tons of frozen and fresh meat a day and is Germany’s single biggest pork processor, with 27% of the market. Tönnies slaughters tens of millions of pigs each year.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the global meat processing industry especially hard. Workers often labor in close quarters, and for relatively meager wages, leaving them more exposed to the virus. In the United States, thousands of industry workers have tested positive for coronavirus and dozens have died.
In Germany, federal labor minister Hubertus Heil told German tabloid Bild that he had “pretty much zero” trust in Tönnies. He said that the exploitation of people from Central and Eastern Europe has “obviously” taken place at the company’s plants.
According to German labor union NGG, 70% to 80% of Tönnies’ 7,000 factory workers are employed through subcontractors and made to work long hours. At some meatpacking plants, staff work 12 to 14 hours a day but only get paid for eight hours, NGG spokesman Jonas Bohl told CNN Business. “Tönnies is no different here,” he said.
Tönnies did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its labor practices. Gütersloh officials put out a call Tuesday for Romanian, Bulgarian and Polish…