Federal investigation fines company for illegally hiring children

Guilty! Federal investigation fines company for illegally hiring children

  • Published on
    May 6, 2024
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  • Category:
    Child Slavery
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A Tennessee based janitorial service was fined $650,000 after a federal investigation by the Department of Labor (DOL) found they had hired at least two dozen children to clean dangerous meat processing equipment. A Time Magazine article reported the company also agreed to a court ordered mandate to stop hiring minors.

“Hazards in the industry”

Animal slaughter and processing is dangerous work by nature, involving sharp tools to cut up flesh and bone. That’s why U.S. law prohibits companies from employing people younger than 18 to work in meat processing plants. It labels “the hazards in the industry” as too high to allow children to safely participate. Despite that, the investigation alleges Fayette Janitorial Services used 15 underage workers at a Perdue Farms plant and at least nine at Seaboard Triumph Foods.

According to the article:

“The work included sanitizing dangerous equipment like head splitters, jaw pullers, and meat bandsaws in hazardous conditions where animals are killed and rendered.”

The investigation further alleges that one 14-year-old was severely injured while cleaning the drumstick packing line belt. In addition to the $650,000 fine, for the next three years, Fayette also must hire a third-party consultant to monitor compliance with child labor laws and establish a hotline for individuals to report concerns about child labor abuses.

Illegal child labor violations increasingly the rule, not the exception

As part of their findings, the labor department called attention to the growing list of child labor violations across the country. That includes a 16-year-old fatally mangled while working at a poultry plant, a 16-year-old killed by an accident at a sawmill, and more than 100 children illegally employed by Packers Sanitation Services Inc. These violations occurred across 13 meatpacking plants according to a report last year by the DOL. The latest statistics indicate the number of children employed illegally in the U.S. has increased 88% since 2019. Of particular concern are unaccompanied migrant children released to unrelated adults or distant relatives, a situation that can lead to abuse and exploitation.

According to the New York Times:

“Nationally, migrant children living with unrelated adults are often clustered in agricultural and manufacturing centers, suggesting they are searching for work in order to help families back home.”

The DOL points out that the increase of children arriving in the U.S. coincided with the spike in violations of child labor laws. When minors move in with their parents and siblings, they are usually supported by their family. However, The New York Times documented that when adults other than family accept custody of unaccompanied children, they are more likely to do so with the expectation that they will work and pay rent. This possibly accounts for some of the spikes in violations. In addition, those children also want work to help families back home. All these factors underline the need for strong legislation to protect working children and keep them out of dangerous industries like meat packing and processing.

Child workers need more protection, not less

The legislative rollbacks to child protection taking place across the U.S. means we need a multifaceted approach to address child labor abuse, one that combines legislative measures with advocacy.

That is why it is so important that advocates like you keep learning about the issue and then act! Sign our petition calling on legislators in the U.S. to halt the passage of bills rolling back child labor laws. By increasing awareness of this issue, we can build the necessary pressure to stop these bills. Children and families can then meet basic needs without children laboring in dangerous and illegal conditions as modern-day slaves.

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