Environmental Justice for Food System Workers: Heat-Illness Prevention Standards as One Step Toward Just Transition

44 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2023

See all articles by Sarah Matsumoto

Sarah Matsumoto

University of Colorado Law School; Willamette University College of Law

Date Written: December 31, 2022


The recent dual crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest have brought environmental injustices for food system workers into stark view. These events prompt us to reflect on how and why our existing laws, some of which expressly include environmental justice “tools,” failed to fully protect food system workers during times of crisis, and what changes we might implement to ensure that people employed in food system jobs are safe at their places of work. These events also revealed the need for proactive, prospective changes now before another crisis occurs; indeed, experts believe that global disease outbreaks and extreme heat events are likely to recur, and with greater frequency.

Using Oregon’s heat illness prevention rules as an illustration, this Article analyzes the extent to which heat standards to protect worker health and safety serve to further various aspects of environmental justice. Applying Professor Robert Kuehn’s taxonomy of environmental justice, I explore the ways that such standards might promote distributive, procedural, corrective, and social justice, and I identify corresponding limits. While heat standards provide much-needed, immediate protection for food system workers and others, large-scale, transformative change to the food system is needed if we are serious about promoting justice for some of the most essential members of our society.

Keywords: environmental justice, farmworkers, food systems, heat, Oregon

Suggested Citation

Matsumoto, Sarah, Environmental Justice for Food System Workers: Heat-Illness Prevention Standards as One Step Toward Just Transition (December 31, 2022). Pace Environmental Law (PELR) Review, Vol. 40, No. 1, 2022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4338860

Sarah Matsumoto (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

Willamette University College of Law ( email )

245 Winter St. SE
Salem, OR 97301
United States

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