As young as 13 | Janitorial company fined $649,000 after hiring child labor to clean slaughterhouses

Janitorial company fined $649,000 after hiring child labor to clean slaughterhouses

Fayette Janitorial Service has been fined $649,000 by the Department of Labor (DOL) after hiring child labor to clean slaughterhouses.

At least 24 children, as young as 13 years old, had been working dangerous jobs on overnight shifts at two slaughterhouse sites, an investigation found.

The Tennessee-based cleaning company hired the underage workers at facilities in Virginia and Iowa, for roles including sanitizing hazardous machinery.

“Minors were used to clean dangerous kill floor equipment such as head splitters, jaw pullers, meat bandsaws, and neck clippers,” a DOL statement announcing the investigation said in February.

According to the investigation, a 14-year-old suffered “severe injuries” while cleaning a drumstick packing line belt.

Fayette Janitorial Services has agreed to the $650,000 fine and a mandate to no longer hire child workers, with DOL investigators finding a minimum of four minors working at a slaughterhouse as late as December last year.

They must also set up a channel for whistleblowers to report concerns of Fayette illegally hiring children to work dangerous roles.

Under federal labor law, companies are banned from hiring people under the age of 18 for roles in meat processing and packaging facilities, such as cleaning or machinery operation, due to the hazardous nature of the work.

Fayette, in a statement to CNN, attributes the hiring of child labor to underage workers submitting falsified paperwork. “The realization that the use of fraudulent identification documents had allowed individuals under the age of 18 to circumvent our policies and procedures required immediate action,” it said.

The company added that its goal is to “ensure a safe and compliant work environment for all of our employees,” and has made “substantial investments in proprietary systems and technologies has closed the gap that allowed this situation to arise.”

The operators of the two slaughterhouse facilities, Perdue Farms and Seaboard Triumph Foods, both terminated their contracts with Fayette in February, when the DOL announced it had asked a federal court to “issue a nationwide temporary restraining order and injunction against Fayette”.

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The DOL has made broader efforts to address the pervasive issue of illegal child labor in the US, including the creation of the Interagency Task Force to Combat Child Labor Exploitation.

The department’s latest figures show an alarming rise in illegal child labor, estimating an 88% increase since 2019.

In fiscal year 2023, it fined employers over $8million in penalties after identifying 955 cases of child labor violations. This included the fatalities of 16-year-olds at a Mississippi poultry plant and Wisconsin sawmill, and a $1.5million fine for Packers Sanitation Services which employed more than 100 children illegally across 13 meatpacking plants.

The DOL’s full list of jobs that are “off-limits” for minors, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), also includes roofing; logging, forestry, and sawmilling; and power-driven bakery machines.

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