The past several years has seen no shortage of calls to boycott some of the most iconic food products on grocery store shelves. Currently, many are refusing to buy Russian vodka to protest the country’s invasion of Ukraine. And we can’t forget about the calls to boycott Goya products after then-President Donald Trump’s endorsement of the brand. But now, another major food company is coming under fire from veggie lovers—and for good reason.
Amy’s Kitchen has gained notoriety for its vegan and vegetarian prepared foods. Their frozen dinners have been a staple in many health- and ethics-conscious consumers’ kitchens since 1988. But some customers who have, until recently, believed they were buying ethical products from the brand are now boycotting the company over alleged hazardous workplace conditions.
In late January, workers at the company’s factory in Sonoma County, California, filed a complaint with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) alleging poor working conditions and unreasonably demanding expectations for production. One worker I spoke with who has worked for Amy’s for a number of years said that the production lines move incredibly fast and that there aren’t enough people working the lines to move at a reasonable pace. They also mentioned that production expectations have increased over the years. This has allegedly left workers at risk of occupational injuries that can hinder their ability to work in the future. And considering the lack of what workers feel is adequate health coverage and compensation for their work, the consequences of these allegations, if true, can leave people in extremely precarious situations, both financially and health-wise.
Moreover, when concerned employees have gone to management, the company has allegedly ignored the problems and calls for change. The worker I talked to told me they feel like they’re constantly being watched at work. “We’re feeling a lot of pressure and a lot of pushback,” they said.
Of course, these allegations would be serious if they were lodged against any corporation, but they’re especially egregious considering Amy’s claims about the company’s ethics. Their website’s “promise” reads: “We choose what’s best for our customers, our farmers, our employees and the planet.” As a company that focuses on vegetarian products specifically, some feel that it should be held to a higher standard to ensure that nobody—animals or people—are harmed in the production process.
lauren Ornelas, founder and president of the Food Empowerment Project, one of the organizations that called for the Amy’s boycott, explained why these alleged violations of worker’s rights are so worrisome, especially to vegans and vegetarians who prioritize ethical eating practices: “It’s inseparable. You can’t pull apart worker’s rights issues and veganism and animal rights, in my mind.” She said, “People do not want to support a company that’s not supporting the rights of the workers. People very desperately want Amy’s to do the right thing because we want to buy their products. But we know that our desire to buy their products is not as important as the rights of those workers.”
Amy’s Kitchen responded to the allegations on their website, stating, “We are deeply committed to listening to all of our employees and to turning their feedback into action. That is our personal promise to our employees and to our entire Amy’s family.” But the workers, who are predominantly Latinx and predominantly women, are asking for action, not promises. The worker I spoke with said that they’re tired of Amy’s acting like a “political party.” Workers want to see real action to address their concerns.
Ornelas says that Amy’s Kitchen is more than capable of making these changes going forward. She said, “They’re still a privately held company. This is their decision to make. This is what they’re saying about themselves and their values because these asks are completely reasonable.”
As Gen Z, known as perhaps the most ethically motivated generation alive today, comes of age, corporations like Amy’s are likely to feel more pressure from consumers to do the right thing by paying their workers a fair wage and creating work environments that don’t put their workers at risk of injury or danger. Ornelas told me, “It’s imperative that companies like theirs wake up and realize this isn’t going to work anymore.”
We all love convenience, and we all want to go to the grocery store and put any product in our basket that speaks to us. But until corporations make real commitments to creating fair working environments for their employees, it makes sense for consumers who care about these issues to be mindful about the companies they’re supporting with their purchases. Boycotting corporations that refuse to provide reasonable working conditions is the least we can all do to support the people who do the most important work of all: keeping us all fed.