A Mississippi meat processing plant, Mar-Jac Poultry, was found responsible for the death of a 16-year-old migrant worker who sustained fatal injuries when he was sucked into a deboning machine reports Independent. A child labor investigation has since been launched by The Department of Labor against the company.
Federal and state child labor laws failed to protect
In Mississippi, state labor laws ban minors from working in meat packing or in positions that involve processing meat or poultry. In addition, Federal labor law prohibits minors from operating and cleaning meat processing and packing equipment, classified as “particularly hazardous” by the U.S. Labor Department. So how did this happen?
OSHA Regional Administrator Kury Petermeyer said:
“The company’s inaction has directly led to this terrible tragedy, which has left so many to mourn this child’s preventable death.”
While Mar-Jac Poultry called the death a “tragedy” and acknowledged that the boy “should not have been hired,” it shoved the blame for a child doing this illegal and dangerous work onto the third-party hiring company who it claims misrepresented the victim’s age. The poultry processing company has been fined over $200,000 in penalties as a consequence of being found responsible for the child’s death, an amount set by federal statute. But Mar-Jac Poultry had been cited in 2021 for a worker fatality due to safety negligence and they simply paid the fine, two years later “nothing has changed.”
Is children’s safety the cost of doing business?
Unfortunately, companies like Mar-Jac Poultry seem to believe that labor violations, including child labor violations, are just the “cost of doing business.” Child labor protections are fundamental to ensure minors who work are kept safe and that the amount and types of work they do are appropriate for their age. However, instead of stepping-up protection to prevent situations like those at Marc-Jac Poultry, ten states have recently introduced or passed legislation that weaken child labor protections.
“Following the fatal incident in May Mar-Jac Poultry should have enforced strict safety standards… (but) the company continues to treat employee safety as an afterthought, putting its workers at risk.”
The new laws propose to lower minimum wage for minors, allow minors to work longer hours, and permit their employment in hazardous occupations, like meat packing plants, that are currently banned for minors. Companies like Mar-Jac Poultry are aware of how dangerous the machinery they use can be when safety standards are not in place to prevent serious injury and death. But due to labor shortages companies continue to turn a blind eye to the realities of rolling back child labor protections.
“the company’s inaction has directly led to this terrible tragedy, which has left so many to mourn this child’s preventable death.”
Filling labor shortages shouldn’t cost children’s lives
As demonstrated by the increase in children killed or injured on the job, instead of rolling back existing protections, we need to strengthen laws to adequately protect child workers, including deeper fixes to the immigration system and individual states laws. The broken system of citations and fines currently in place seems to be facilitating their exploitation instead of protecting minors from harm.
Freedom United echos Petermeyer’s words:
“No worker should be placed in a preventable, dangerous situation, let alone a child.”
Stand with Freedom United and tell representatives of those states rolling back child labor laws to stop exploiting migrant children and all children! Write to the representatives and Governors to demand they do their job and protect children from harm, exploitation, trafficking, and abuse. Say NO to child labor law rollbacks!