A Perfect Storm: COVID-19 and the Reorganisation of the German Meat Industry

Cornel Ban, Dorothee Bohle, Marek Naczyk*

*Corresponding author for this work

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An advocacy coalition of trade unions, churches and NGOs had been trying for a long time to mobilise domestic media and politicians in order to re-regulate the German meat industry. The meat industry’s low-cost business model, using employee posting and subcontracting on a massive scale, has led to extreme forms of unsafe working and poor living conditions for large numbers of Central and Eastern European workers. But it is only in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that the German government decided to ban subcontracting, posting and temporary work in this industry. Why did COVID-19 make a difference? In an industry in which the livelihoods of local communities in Germany’s pig belt and in deprived rural parts of Romania have become structurally dependent on subcontracting, institutional change would not have happened without the pre-existing mobilisation of the above-mentioned advocacy coalition. But COVID-19 created a ‘perfect storm’ that empowered this coalition by helping reframe the meat industry issue away from a ‘narrow’ employment regulation problem into a ‘broader’ public health threat. Indeed, after becoming a virus hotspot, the meat industry was no longer just a threat to the livelihoods of its own workers, but to those of the wider local community.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTransfer: European review of Labour and Research
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)101-118
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Germany
  • Meat industry
  • Romania
  • Subcontracting
  • Trade unions
  • Working conditions

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