Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms are under federal investigation for alleged child labor violations at meatpacking plants. The Department of Labor told Food Dive the investigations are ongoing within its Wage and Hour Division and did not provide additional details.
The probe follows an investigative story published by The New York Times Magazine last week, detailing how a 14-year-old Guatemalan immigrant at a Virginia slaughterhouse operated by Perdue Farms was maimed by industrial deboning equipment. The teen was tasked with cleaning residue from poultry processing last year when his arm was significantly injured.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act, originally passed in 1938, prohibits minors from working in facilities that perform meat slaughtering and processing because of the dangerous nature of the profession.
In a response to Food Dive, Perdue Farms spokesperson Andrea Staub said the company is “appalled by the allegations” and has internal policies preventing minors from working in hazardous positions. She said the poultry company is conducting a third-party audit of child labor prevention procedures, including of its contractors. Perdue will “take appropriate actions” based on its findings and cooperate with the government on the inquiry, she said.
Tyson Foods did not respond to Food Dive at press time.
The Biden administration is analyzing whether large meat companies can be considered employees when children are working at their facilities through contractors, the labor department’s chief legal officer Seema Nanda told the New York Times this week. The official told the newspaper it is “long past the day when brands can say they don’t know that they have child labor in their supply chains.”
Despite its illegality, the issue of child labor at slaughterhouses has roiled the meat sector in 2023.
Earlier this year, a sanitation company employed by producers such as JBS and Tyson was fined $1.5 million by the Department of Labor. A federal investigation found roughly 102 employees under 18 were employed to clean “razor-sharp claws” and other dangerous equipment. The Department of Homeland Security said it was investigating a potential child trafficking ring at the slaughterhouses. In April, JBS told Food Dive it cut ties with Packers Sanitation Services and transitioned its cleaning operations in-house.