Investigators discovered that a large food sanitation company in the US had hired dozens of kids to work overnight shifts cleaning meatpacking plants, and the company has now agreed to pay $1.5 million.
According to the Department of Labor, Packers Sanitation Services employed more than 100 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17.
The agency referred to the company’s failure as “systemic.”
National legislation restricts the number of hours that teenagers can work and prohibits hiring anyone under the age of 14.
According to a Packers Sanitation Services spokesperson, the company has a “zero-tolerance policy” against hiring anyone who is younger than 18 and has conducted numerous audits and additional training since learning about the claims.
Several of the individuals named by officials had left the company “multiple years ago,” the spokesperson added.
“We are fully committed to working with [the Department of Labor] to make additional improvements to enforce our prohibition of employing anyone under the age of 18,” they said.
An investigation that the Department of Labor launched last year has been concluded thanks to the settlement.
It was discovered that at least three teenagers suffered workplace injuries while using dangerous chemicals to clean tools like head splitters and back saws.
Officials claimed that the company ignored internal warning signs and that a few managers later attempted to obstruct the investigation.
“The child labour violations in this case were systemic and reached across eight states, and clearly indicate a corporate-wide failure by Packers Sanitation Services at all levels,” said Jessica Looman, principal deputy administrator at the Department of Labor’s wage and hour division.
“These children should never have been employed in meat packing plants and this can only happen when employers do not take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place,” Ms Looman said.
The teenagers worked at 13 facilities of large companies located in eight states.
The maximum penalty was approximately $15,000 per person, according to officials.
As job creation remained comparatively weak in the years following the 2008–2009 financial crisis, teen employment decreased. But as businesses rushed to hire workers after the pandemic, it has sharply increased.
The Department of Labor expressed concern over the rise in child labor violations in the US last summer.
In 2022, nearly 4,000 minors were involved in more than 800 cases of child labor violations handled by the agency, a significant increase from 2015.
US child labor laws prohibit hiring anyone under the age of 14. Teens between the ages of 14 and 15 are not permitted to work after 7 p.m. or after 9 p.m. during the summer.
Additionally, they are not allowed to work more than three hours on school days, eight hours on non-school days, or more than 18 hours per week due to legal restrictions.
(Adapted from CBSNews.com)