US company fined for hiring kids to clean meatpacking plants

Packers Sanitation Services hired at least 102 kids aged 13–17 years old
calendar icon 18 February 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

A major food safety sanitation company has paid $1.5 million in penalties for employing more than 100 teenagers in dangerous jobs at meatpacking plants in eight states, Reuters reported, citing the US Department of Labor on Friday.

The department said Packers Sanitation Services Inc allowed at least 102 children between 13 and 17 years old to work overnight shifts and use hazardous chemicals to clean dangerous meat processing equipment such as brisket saws and "head splitters" used to kill animals.

Packers contracts with meatpacking companies to provide cleaning services at slaughterhouses.

Federal labour law prohibits children under 18 from working in meatpacking plants and bars minors from working past 9 p.m. in the summer and 7 p.m. during the school year.

The largest penalties against Packers stemmed from its contracts at JBS USA plants in Nebraska and Minnesota and a Cargill Inc plant in Kansas. The Labor Department did not accuse JBS, Cargill and other meatpackers of wrongdoing.

Wisconsin-based Packers said in a statement that it has a zero tolerance policy for employing minors. The company said it conducted an audit of its workforce and hired a law firm to review its hiring policies after learning of the Labor Department's investigation.

The department in November sued Packers in Nebraska federal court for allegedly employing at least 31 children at three meatpacking plants. Packers settled the lawsuit in December by agreeing not to hire minors and to have an outside specialist monitor its compliance with labour laws.

The fines announced on Friday stemmed from a broader Labor Department investigation of Packers.

The department said in the lawsuit that most of the children who worked at the three plants were not fluent English speakers and had to be interviewed in Spanish, though it was not clear whether they were immigrants. A Labor Department spokesperson said the agency did not verify the immigration status of the children.

Reuters has reported that the illegal use of child workers - particularly migrants - is widespread, including at chicken plants in Alabama and by contractors who employ workers at Hyundai and Kia assembly plants.

The automakers have said they do not condone labour law violations and are reviewing hiring practices used by their suppliers.

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