Investigation Follows Reports of Dangerous Overnight Shifts Employing Minors
Federal labor regulators launched probes of the nation’s largest poultry producers, Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms, over potential systematic child labor violations after reports emerged detailing dangerous working conditions and lax oversight endangering vulnerable youth.
The Department of Labor acknowledged active investigations this week focusing on Eastern Shore processing facilities in Virginia following harrowing accounts of children dismembered or exposed to corrosive chemicals while tasked with cleaning industrial equipment.
Allegations teenage employees faced egregious hazards intensified scrutiny around longstanding practices in food processing permitting minors ages 13-16 to handle prohibited risky tasks like pressure washing blood and grease overnight. The accusations recall a nearly $1.5 million fine Labor levied against a meat cleaning contractor in February over employing undocumented kids.
“We take the legal employment and safety of each individual working in our facilities very seriously,” said a Perdue spokesperson, echoing Tyson’s pledge to assist regulators assessing potential breaches. Perdue specifically vowed auditing contractors possibly complicit evading child safety rules or falsifying ages.
But watchdogs counter that for years willful obliviousness to underage staffing likely boosted output while buoying bottom lines. They report child labor violations have nearly quadrupled since 2015 even as deaths and dismemberments mount.
In July, a 16-year old cleaner died falling from a Mississippi poultry plant roof. Another teen’s arm was nearly torn off by Perdue machinery this year when contractors allegedly staffed a third of shifts with middle and high schoolers.
The new probes ratchet pressure on processors to confront shadowy labor networks while tightening oversight. But lengthy supply chains offer ready alibis claiming powerlessness governing subcontractors. Ultimately, sheltered kids shouldering workplace hazards epitomize human costs behind industrial efficiencies consumers blithely take for granted.
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Claire Marshall is the dedicated Editor-in-Chief of NewNoted, with a lifelong passion for journalism and a commitment to transparent and responsible reporting. Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, she brings a love for storytelling, a devotion to ethics, and a deep appreciation for diverse perspectives to her role at the helm of NewNoted.