“Capital has to serve the people and not vice versa!”, a German priest known for his anti-slavery activism in slaughterhouses has declared.

– A documentary on the “deplorable conditions” for workers in the meat-processing sector

Father Peter Kossen, a priest who has been campaigning for years for fair and dignified working conditions in the meat-processing sector, made the declaration in a new documentary on life and work in abattoirs in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia entitled Regeln am Band, bei hoher Geschwindigkeit (“Rules on the assembly line, at high speed”).

Those slaughterhouses have recently made headlines for the deplorable way in which their employees are treated, with their exploitative working conditions and unsanitary housing being blamed for mass coronavirus outbreaks in Gütersloh and Coesfeld that have now resulted in widespread lockdowns for the general populations of those districts.

But film-maker Yulia Lokshina, who won the 2020 Film Festival Max Ophüls Prize for Rules on the assembly line, told DW that she actually began work on her project three years ago as a way of denouncing the thoughtlessness and injustice of consumers demanding the cheapest meat possible, on the one hand, while tolerating the exploitation of low-paid mostly Eastern European temporary workers, on the other.

Those workers “cannot rebel against the deplorable conditions”, Lokshina said, by way of justifying her look at the excesses of capitalism on behalf of the forgotten workers in the meat sector.

– German Bishops: “Exploitative employment conditions are a scandal”

Along with Lokshina in her documentary, and Father Kossen in his ongoing denunciations, the German Bishops’ Conference has also spoken out about workers’ conditions in abattoirs, with the chairman of the Bishops’ working group on human trafficking, Auxiliary Bishop Ansgar Puff of the Cologne archdiocese, decrying in a June 20 statement the “exploitation and slavery-like practices” in slaughterhouses.

As the COVID-19 outbreaks in Gütersloh and Coesfeld have shown, “migrants from Eastern Europe are abused as cheap labour in the middle of Germany and housed in inhuman dwellings”, Puff denounced, adding that those “exploitative employment conditions in the meat industry are a scandal”.

The bishop deplored, too, that the inhumane conditions in the meat sector have existed for years, without anyone doing anything to rectify them.

“It was simply too convenient for many to close their eyes”, Puff lamented.

Moving forward, the German Bishops’ delegate for human trafficking called on politicians to put an immediate end to the “tricks” subcontractors in the sector use to circumvent minimum wage requirements and occupational health safety standards and to cram workers into overcrowded accommodation.

To citizens in wider society, Puff launched an appeal to “everyone who cares about human dignity and solidarity” to “ask themselves whether what they consume is the result of exploitation”.

“We must be aware that our consumer behaviour has an influence on working conditions and wages”, the bishop concluded, before recalling Pope Francis’ constant condemnations of economic models that “degrade people to objects of utility”.

“We are all called upon to take concrete measures against exploitation”, Puff insisted.

More on Novena on the outcry over modern-day slavery in German slaughterhouses:

German priest blames “slave drivers” for 600 COVID-19 positives in slaughterhouse with 1,000 workers

German Benedictines come to rescue of exploited slaughterhouse workers infected with COVID-19

German priest says “modern slavery” to blame for COVID-19 outbreaks in slaughterhouses


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.