Child Labor Accusations Hit the U.S. Meat Industry
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Allegations made against a Wisconsin cleaning company say it employed more than two dozen minors to clean dangerous meatpacking plants for JBS, the world’s largest meat company.
Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI), a specialized cleaning service that contracts with hundreds of meatpacking plants across the U.S., says it does not employ anyone under the age of 18.
But late last year, a federal judge in Nebraska issued a temporary order, preventing the company from hiring minors and from interfering with the Labor Department’s investigation after the Department of Labor accused PSSI of employing at least 31 underage children at multiple locations, including one minor as young as 13.
Department of Labor investigation
The DoL began its investigation in August after it received a tip that the meatpacking cleaning company was employing minors to work in hazardous conditions.
“By entering the temporary injunction and the consent order and judgment, the federal court has made it absolutely clear to Packers Sanitation Services Inc. and other employers that they will be held accountable for ensuring compliance with child labor laws and policing their supervising employees to uphold the law,” Regional Solicitor of Labor Christine Heri said in a statement.
Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri in Chicago said that across the nation, the DoL has seen child labor violations increase 50 percent since 2018. “There are restrictions on the types of jobs young workers under 17 can do, and on the number of hours and times 14 and 15-year-olds can work. This case should serve as a stark reminder for all employers that the U.S. Department of Labor will not tolerate violations of the law, especially those that put vulnerable children at risk.”
Following the court’s ruling, PSSI must now take “significant steps” to ensure it’s compliant with child labor laws, which includes hiring an outside compliance specialist.
PSSI Vice President of Marketing Gina Swenson said the company “has an absolute company-wide prohibition against the employment of anyone under the age of 18 and zero tolerance for any violation of that policy — period.”
Michael Koenig, JBS’s chief ethics and compliance officer, said the company is taking steps to verify the status of its sanitation workers and won’t tolerate child labor. “We take seriously the allegations against PSSI, which, if true, represent a clear violation of our ethical policies,” Koeing said in a statement.
Under the terms of the agreement, PSSI will work with a third-party consultant or compliance specialist to provide quarterly child labor compliance training to all management personnel. The compliance specialist will monitor and audit PSSI for a three-year period to ensure compliance, including unannounced site visits quarterly. It must review its existing policies and training materials to ensure they’re compliant with child labor laws. PSSI faces sanctions for failure to comply with the ruling.