Winner, winner, chicken dinner? Not for two leading U.S. poultry processors, who are facing charges of violating child labor laws. Here’s what’s happening.
Whistleblowers Make Staggering Claims
The United States Labor Department told NPR in late September that they’re investigating both Perdue and Tyson after receiving some disturbing news.
According to the Labor Department, more than one whistleblower has contacted them to report that kids as young as 13 were cleaning chicken processing plants.
The ongoing investigation is a follow-up to a staggering report from New York Times Magazine earlier in the month that detailed a horror story involving a 14-year-old boy.
Kid Almost Had His Arm Ripped Off
The NYT piece reported that the boy had been working the nighttime cleanup shift at a Perdue slaughterhouse in Virginia when a piece of machinery nearly ripped his arm off.
The story goes on to say that this boy was one of many underage workers hired by a firm that Perdue contracted for cleaning duties.
That puts some distance between Perdue decision-makers and the children who are in harm’s way, but it doesn’t necessarily exonerate them.
According to federal law, no one under 18 is allowed to do the jobs these kids are tasked with. Some of those chores involve heavy machinery and the use of acid.
Taking the Reports Seriously
A Perdue spokesperson said that the Labor Department has informed them of the ongoing investigation but that the company is not waiting for the outcome of that investigation to take action.
Instead, Perdue has engaged a third-party auditor to take a look at their child labor and safety practices. They are including their contractors in this internal audit.
“We take the legal employment and safety of each individual working in our facilities very seriously,” said the spokesperson.
While the Labor Department says they can’t comment on the current investigations at this time, it’s not hard to draw a line to the very top of the political food chain.
Children Hurt or Killed
Early in 2023, President Biden made a public promise to get tough on child labor law violations.
That vow came in the wake of the latest Labor Department statistics that show child labor law violations have exploded since 2015.
Along the way, several high-profile stories have emerged about underage workers being hurt or killed in workplace accidents, doing jobs they were not permitted to perform by law.
NPR cites examples that include child laborers falling from high distances and other machine-related accidents.
Labor Department’s Investigation
One of the major early targets of the Biden administration was Packers Sanitation Services Inc., a third-party sanitation service fined $1.5 million for violations back in February.
Even so, the Biden administration did not specifically target food companies in their opening salvo against child labor violations earlier this year.
That appears to be changing now, even though Tyson says they have no knowledge of the Labor Department’s investigation at this point.
Regardless of whether that’s true or not, it seems the chicken is about to hit the fan.
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