Hazardous child labor “the norm” at Mar-Jac Poultry

Hazardous child labor “the norm” at Mar-Jac Poultry

  • Published on
    May 21, 2024
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  • Category:
    Child Slavery
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On May 1st, the Department of Labor searched Mar-Jac Poultry, a meat processing plant in Alabama, and found that the company had been illegally employing children… again. This discovery comes less than a year after Duvan Peréz, a 16-year-old boy, was killed at the company’s facility in Mississippi. This tragic incident made Peréz the second employee who died while working at the facility in just two years at the time. With disregard for the past, the company still put at least six more children at risk of the same fate.

Children pay the price of lessons never learned

CNN reports that the DOL investigators “discovered oppressive child labor at [Mar-Jac’s] poultry processing facility, namely children working on the kill floor deboning poultry and cutting carcasses,” adding that “the children had been working at the facility for months.”

Peréz was fatally injured doing work of the exact hazardous nature that these children were discovered doing when he was sucked into a deboning machine.

Cleaning or using machinery in slaughterhouses and meat packaging plants is banned as a type of work children can do under federal labor laws. Yet, the DOL stated in their filed complaint:

“Several minors under the age of 18 in the particularly hazardous occupations of working on the kill floor hanging poultry along fast-moving machine lines, deboning poultry, and cutting poultry carcasses,” adding that “products from this facility through the end of the month are tainted by child labor making them hot goods under the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

Mar-Jac’s complex manager claimed that the workers showed they were over the legal working age and that the company “does question applicants who appear young for their age.” But on May 15, the DOL submitted evidence consisting of photographs of five Mar-Jac employees, their IDs, birth certificates, and medical records that prove all five were minors.

“This is how the company does business”

Debbie Berkowitz, an expert on worker safety in poultry plants, said the increase in child labor cases pushed the DOL to impose tougher penalties. For example, in March, a Tennessee company was required to set aside $1.5 million in profits as a punishment for using illegal child labor.

Berkowitz said that the “kill floor” is one of the harshest environments in the plant and an area where workers face high risks of injuries. Commenting about the fact that the company was already under scrutiny after the death of Peréz from a different facility, she states:

“To then find that there are kids in Mar Jac in the neighboring state is just showing that this is not a one-off,” adding, “This is how the company does business. They just thumb their nose at the law. There wouldn’t be children in these plants if the companies didn’t put out the word that they would look the other way.”

Child labor protections now!

Child labor protections are fundamental to ensure minors who work are kept safe. However, many states are now introducing and passing legislation that weakens these protections. The new laws propose to lower the minimum wage for minors, allow minors to work longer hours, and permit their employment in hazardous occupations. Companies like Mar-Jac Poultry are aware of the dangers their machinery poses. Strict safety standards are vital in preventing serious injury and fatalities. Despite this, the loosening of child labor protections makes it easier to place minors in these dangerous situations.

Sign our petition urging U.S. legislators to stop passing bills that roll back child labor laws. Increasing awareness of this issue can build the necessary pressure to halt these harmful legislative changes that make children vulnerable to exploitation.


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