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US Company Fined $649K for Illegally Hiring Children to Clean Slaughterhouses

“For too long this industry has evaded basic legal oversight,” a legal scholar told Truthout.

A Tennessee-based janitorial company has been fined $649,000 after a Department of Labor (DOL) investigation found that it had employed at least 24 children — some as young as 13 — to work overnight shifts in two separate slaughter facilities.

“The employment of children in hazardous occupations is an egregious violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act that should never occur,” Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said in a statement.

The sanitation company, Fayette Janitorial Service, had employed children to clean slaughterhouses at Seaboard Triumph Foods Plant in Sioux City, Iowa, and at a Perdue Farms poultry processing facility in Accomac, Virginia, in violation of federal law. “Minors were used to clean dangerous kill floor equipment such as head splitters, jaw pullers, meat bandsaws, and neck clippers,” the DOL said in a February release. According to the DOL, a 14-year-old working for Fayette at the Virginia facility reportedly sustained serious injuries while on the job.

In addition to paying more than half a million dollars, Fayette will be required to enlist a third party to prevent occurrences of child labor and to establish a clear mechanism for reporting concerns about children being employed by the company.

Although Perdue has terminated their contract with Fayette, saying that “underage labor has no place in our business or our industry,” Perdue, along with other poultry giant Tyson, has been under multiple federal investigations for contracting with companies that illegally employ children.

“It’s little surprise that some of America’s largest meat producers relied on child labor. What’s surprising is that the violators were caught and held accountable,” Delcianna J. Winders, director of the Animal Law and Policy Institute at Vermont Law and Graduate School, told Truthout.

Perdue and Tyson are not lone violators. In January, The Exclusive Poultry, Inc., the owner of two California poultry processing plants, was ordered by the DOL to pay $3.5 million after a DOL investigation found that it was employing children full time. Additionally, last October, federal agents found more than two dozen minors illegally employed in meat processing and sanitation at Gerber’s Poultry, a poultry plant in Kidron, Ohio. And last February, the DOL discovered more than 100 children were employed by Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) in hazardous roles at meatpacking plants owned by companies like JBS Foods, Tyson Food Inc., and Cargill Inc.

“For too long this industry has evaded basic legal oversight, disregarding worker safety, animal protection, and environmental laws that the rest of the country must follow,” Winders said.

In 2023, employers were fined more than $8 million in penalties after investigators identified child labor violations in 955 cases. Despite companies being fined millions, instances of child labor appear to be on the rise. According to the DOL, incidents of child labor have increased by 69 percent since 2018 and, in 2023, the DOL discovered 5,792 instances of children being illegally employed — an 88 percent surge since 2019 and a 50 percent rise since 2022.

Despite DOL investigations showing that “employers’ violations of federal child labor laws have real consequences on children’s lives,” multiple red states have passed laws eroding child labor protections. Indeed, the Economic Policy Institute reports that since 2021, 28 states have proposed bills to weaken child labor laws, with 12 states enacting them.

“Cumulatively, the Republican Party is embracing policies that would take U.S. labor protections back to the early 20th century,” Sasha Abramsky wrote for Truthout. “The GOP, which, absurdly, still fashions itself as the party of good old-fashioned family values, as the pro-life and pro-child party, repeatedly embraces policies that hurt children, especially those who belong to low-income families.”