Packers Sanitation Services, a leading cleaning company in the meatpacking industry, has come under scrutiny following a comprehensive investigation which uncovered the presence of 102 underage workers between the ages of 13 and 17 in its slaughterhouses across several states. Migrant children working these jobs are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking as they fall under the radar of authorities.
Children working in perilous industries
According to the Washington Post, the rise of labor shortages coupled with an influx of unaccompanied migrant minors from Central America has contributed to a surge in child labor violations, with figures from the U.S. Labor Department showing that such offenses have nearly quadrupled since 2015. The majority of these violations are concentrated in hazardous jobs that are typically avoided by most Americans.
The Washington Post reports,
The Grand Island teens had been hired to scour blood and beef fat from the slippery “kill floor,” using high-pressure hoses, scalding water and industrial foams and acids, according to the Labor Department in federal court records. They sanitized electric knives, fat skinners and 190-pound saws used to split cow carcasses, according to court records. Some students suffered chemical burns and were so sleep-deprived after working their night shifts that they dozed off in classes, according to a local prosecutor and court records.
When companies shift the blame, survivors suffer
Despite clear evidence of failure on its part, Packers has somehow managed to avoid any criminal charges. The company defended itself by claiming that only a small fraction of their workforce were underaged. They also shifted the blame to “rogue individuals” who failed at their jobs rather than accept fault in their company’s policies and procedures.
They claim to have a “zero-tolerance policy” against hiring children. This supposed aversion was echoed by the 100-billion-dollar company Blackstone which owns Packers as well as JBS, the beef producer who hired Packers to clean its meatpacking plant, whose representative told the Washington Post, “We expect and contractually require our vendors to adhere to the same high standards that we apply to the screening and eligibility of our own workforce.” This is not the first time JBS has been linked to child labor.
Meanwhile, the families of the teen workers have been left vulnerable to child-abuse charges and potential deportation. Even more alarming, some of the children cannot be found which advocates say the Labor Department is partially responsible for as they raided the Grand Island plant without a plan for ensuring the safety of the children.
Stand up for migrant workers
The Labor Department also does not keep track of the number of migrant child workers. This is despite the fact that unaccompanied minors arriving from countries like Guatemala have reached “record” numbers since a recent policy was introduced to exempt minors who entered the country illegally from being deported – and many of these children end up in places like Packers. In one case, a 14-year-old Guatemalan girl reported that she was forced to work for Packers to repay the cost of smuggling her over the border.
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