Supply Chain Characteristics that Impact Traceability

Traceability Takeaways

  • Forced labor and child labor occurs in the beef and cattle sector in many countries, across continents. However, the nature of the risk – for example, whether the primary risk is child labor associated with animal husbandry or forced labor associated with slaughtering and meat processing – depends largely on specific geographies present in supply chain. Therefore, supply chain mapping of the geographic footprint of production is an important first step.
  • Labor risks occur at the breeding, rearing, and fattening stages of cattle production, as well as in slaughtering/processing. Given the multiple levels of risk, traceability systems should trace products to the farm level and should include slaughtering/meat processing facilities.
  • Cattle change hands regularly throughout the supply chain, making identity preservation methods for beef more challenging. Given the complexity of the supply chain, supply chain mapping and forensic testing may both be useful to validate origins and chain of custody.
  • Traceability systems that are focused on food safety and the verification of type of meat, and that allow tracing back to the farm and processing level, can be leveraged to map supply chains and identify specific worksites that can be further assessed for labor conditions.

Nature of Labor Rights Risk/Vulnerable Workers

Child Labor cited by U.S. Government

Risk of Forced Labor or Trafficking in Persons cited by other source

Risk of Child Labor cited by other source

Documented presence of migrant workers

Documented presence of other vulnerable workers

Documented presence or significant likelihood of third-party labor recruiters

Forced Labor or Trafficking in Persons cited by U.S. Government

Features of Production and Supply Chain

Large numbers of dispersed, unorganized, or informal small producers or other worksites

Multiple points of aggregation, co-mingling, and/or transformation across supply chain

Complex, opaque supply chains and/or lack of vertical integration

High degree of flexibility in procurement practices of downstream entities

Distribution of Labor Risk in Various Production Areas

Scale or nature of risk varies significantly based on geographic area of production

Scale or nature of risk is present across multiple tiers or nodes of supply chain (including in associated downstream or upstream goods)

Scale or nature of risk is strongly associated with certain types of suppliers/entities

Linked Upstream and Downstream Risks

Risk in Nodes in Beef Production

Beef is derived from cattle which is produced through four primary stages: breeding, rearing, fattening, and slaughtering. Labor risks have been documented at all nodes of production; for further information on risks in the upstream nodes of cattle production associated with beef, see the Cattle profile. In addition to risks identified in the upstream nodes of cattle production associated with beef (breeding, rearing, fattening), labor risks are present in the mid-tier slaughtering, processing, and packing nodes of meat production. After the fattening stage of production, cattle are often put to auction and sold to slaughterhouse and processing facilities where workers slaughter and disassemble cattle and cut, debone, and package meat and meat products before they are distributed to final retailers. The meat slaughtering and packing industry is known to have numerous health and safety hazards, including exposure to high levels of noise, slippery surfaces, dangerous equipment, and harmful chemicals as well repetitive physical motions that can result in musculoskeletal injury.22“Meatpacking.” United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration,,common%20among%20meat%20packing%20workers. At industrial scales, the work can be dangerous, difficult, and generally considered unpleasant. These types of jobs, often referred to as “Three D” Jobs – dirty, dangerous, difficult – are often filled by workers who have little to no other choice for employment and may be from vulnerable socio-demographic groups, including refugee and immigrant populations.23“Three D Jobs.” Responsible Sourcing Tool, ; Stuesse, Angela and Nathan T. Dollar. “Who are America’s Meat and Poultry Workers?” Economic Policy Institute, 24 September 2020, Workers may be exposed to long working hours with few or no breaks and discrimination and fast-paced production lines.24“When We’re Dead and Buried, Our Bones will Keep Hurting.” Workers’ Rights Under Threat in US Meat and Poultry Plants. Human Rights Watch, 4 September 2019, Cleaning and sanitizing slaughterhouses, which involves exposure to dangerous chemicals and processing equipment, is an essential component of beef production; in the United States, children have been found to be employed illegally on sanitation crews subcontracted to clean slaughterhouses.25Yang, Maya. “Over 100 Children Illegally Employed by US Slaughterhouse Cleaning Firm.” The Guardian, 17 February 2023,

Cattle Breeding, Rearing, Fattening


Beef Processing & Packing

Slaughterhouse Sanitation & Cleaning

Distribution and Retail of Final Product

Associated Upstream Goods with Labor Risk


Beef and beef products are derived from cattle.

Associated Downstream Goods and Consumer Sectors

Food and Beverage

Beef products account for roughly 25 percent of all meat consumption worldwide.

Top Global Countries

  1. United States of America26List of exporters for the selected product in 2021. 0201 Meat of bovine animals, fresh or chilled. ITC Trade Map,
  2. Australia
  3. Netherlands
  4. Canada
  5. Ireland
  6. Mexico
  7. Poland
  8. Germany
  9. France
  10. Brazil
  1. United States of America27“Crops and Livestock Products.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  2. Brazil
  3. China
  4. Argentina
  5. Australia
  6. Mexico
  7. Russia
  8. France
  9. Canada
  10. Pakistan


Examples & Resources: Traceability Efforts Associated With Beef