Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms are facing federal investigations into whether migrant children are among those cleaning slaughterhouses owned by two of the nation's biggest poultry producers.
The Department of Labor launched its inquiries after a published report detailed migrant kids working overnight for contractors in the companies' facilities on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. A Sept. 18 New York Times Magazine story detailed children cleaning blood, grease and feathers from equipment with acid and pressure hoses.
"There are currently U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigations open at Perdue and Tyson Foods. No additional details can be provided as the investigations are ongoing," a DOL spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch in an email.
A spokesperson for Perdue said the company was "appalled" by the allegations.
"We take the legal employment and safety of each individual working in our facilities very seriously and have strict, longstanding policies in place for Perdue associates to prevent minors from working hazardous jobs in violation of the law," the spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch in an email. "We recognize the systemic nature of this issue and embrace any role we can play in a solution."
The Times' account included details of a 14-year-old boy who was maimed while cleaning a conveyor belt in a deboning area at a Perdue slaughterhouse in rural Virginia. The eighth grader was among thousands of Mexican and Central American children who have crossed the border on their own to work in dangerous jobs.
Tyson Foods not aware of investigation
"Tyson Foods has not been made aware of any investigation, and therefore, cannot comment," a spokesperson for the Springdale, Arkansas-based company stated in an email.
The investigations come six months after the Labor Department fined one of the nation's biggest sanitation services providers $1.5 million for employing more than 100 children — prohibits minors from working in meat processing due to the increased risk of injury.— for overnight shifts at 13 meat processing plants in eight states. Federal law
The Labor Department is also investigating the companies supplying the cleaning crews for Perdue and Tyson in Virginia — Fayette Industrial for the former and QSI, a unit of the Vincit Group, for the latter, according to the Times.
QSI is willing to "cooperate with any industry investigation," a spokesperson emailed.
"We have zero tolerance for any ineligible underage workers and are committed to compliance with all applicable workforce laws and regulations. We have rigorous policies, procedures and practices in place to identify and screen out those who are underage, including measures that go beyond the federal government's E-Verify system such as visual inspections, third-party monitors and identity verification systems, and our policy is to not hire anyone under the age of 21 for any sanitation job at the company," the company stated.
Fayette echoed QSI, saying it is committed to keeping worksites "safe and free from child labor." The company a year ago instituted additional safeguards including facial-recognition technology "to prevent unauthorized clock-ins," Fayette stated in an email.
The Labor Department did not immediately confirm those probes.
Another government agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has employees in processing plants daily to inspect animals before and after slaughter. The Times report relayed food safety inspectors routinely came across children in the Virginia plants.
Dangerous child labor 'inexcusable'
"The use of illegal child labor — particularly requiring that children undertake dangerous tasks — is inexcusable," a USDA spokesperson stated in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.
The agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service this month began retraining its 7,800 frontline workers to report child workers to the Labor Department. Food inspectors do not have law enforcement capabilities in their work at 6,800 federally regulated facilities across the country.
Teenagers work legally across the country, but a Labor Department report released in Julydeemed too dangerous for minors, a 44% jump from the previous year.
The agency earlier this month said it was looking to interview workers at a poultry plant in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, following the death of a 16-year-old worker in July.
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