A meatpacking sanitation firm, Packers Sanitation Services, has been fined $1.5 million for employing more than 102 children between the ages of 13 and 17 to clean meat plants with hazardous chemicals. The US Department of Labor said the sanitation firm violated child labor law by hiring minors across eight states to work in meatpacking plants, some of them working overnight shifts and cleaning razor-sharp saws.
Based in Wisconsin, federal authorities found that Packers Sanitation Services employed children in meat factories in Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Tennessee, and Texas. The minors were hired in the largest meat and poultry plants in the United States, including JBS Foods, Tyson, and Cargill among others. None of the meat companies were fined.
According to investigations, the meat processing sanitation firm employed kids to clean back saws, brisket saws, and head splitters among other meat equipment. Investigators found that at least three children have been injured working at more than 13 facilities across the country. The DOL applied the Fair Labor Standards Act to penalize Packers Sanitation Services $15,138 for each child employed at its meat plants.
“As soon as we became aware of the DOL’s allegations, we conducted multiple additional audits of our employee base, and hired a third-party law firm to review and help further strengthen our policies in this area,” a spokesperson for the company said. “We have also conducted multiple additional pieces of training for hiring managers, including on spotting identity theft.”
The company said many of the children employed left its service three years ago and that it has zero tolerance for child labor violations.
“We have been crystal clear from the start: Our company has a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18 and fully shares the DOL’s objective of ensuring full compliance at all locations,” Packers Sanitation stated on Friday.
Jessica Looman, the principal deputy administrator of the DOL’s Wage and Hours Division, said the minors ought not to have been employed in meat processing plants in the first place, if not for gross child labor violations.
“The child labor violations, in this case, were systemic and reached across eight states, and clearly indicate a corporate-wide failure by Packers Sanitation Services at all levels,” Looman said. “These children should never have been employed in meat packing plants, and this can only happen when employers do not take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place.”