The Labor Department said Friday it found 102 children as young as 13 working nights at dangerous jobs cleaning slaughterhouses in eight states, in what it called a «corporate failure» by one of the largest food sanitation companies. nation’s largest, Packers Sanitation Services Inc.
In a statement, the company said: «We are pleased to have finalized this settlement figure as part of our previously announced December resolution with the Department of Labor (DOL) finalizing its investigation. We have been very clear from the beginning: our company has a zero-tolerance policy against the employment of anyone under the age of 18 and fully shares the DOL’s goal of ensuring full compliance at all locations.»
«As soon as we learned of the DOL’s allegations, we conducted multiple additional audits of our employee base… Our audits and DOL’s investigation confirmed that none of the persons cited by DOL as under 18 work for the company today, and many had separated from employment with PSSI several years ago. DOL has also not identified any managers aware of the misconduct who are currently employed by PSSI.»
«We are fully committed to working with DOL to make additional improvements to enforce our prohibition on employing anyone under the age of 18.»
Packers Sanitation Services paid a $1.5 million fine for the violations. The amount of the fine is dictated by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allows a fine of $15,138 for each minor who has been employed in violation of the law, according to the Department of Labor.
The Department of Labor says that children working night shifts used «caustic chemicals to clean sharp saws.» The company employs 17,000 workers at 700 sites across the country.
“Our investigation found that Packers Sanitation Services systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags. When the Wage and Hour Division arrived with court orders, the adults, who had recruited, hired and supervised these children, attempted to derail our efforts to investigate their employment practices,” said Michael Lazzeri, the division’s Chicago regional administrator.
The company signed a consent decree in December with the Department of Labor and agreed to comply with child labor laws after federal investigators documented 50 children working in slaughterhouses for it. The company is taking «significant steps to ensure future compliance with the law, including the employment of a third-party compliance specialist,» according to the consent decree.
The compliance specialist will conduct child labor audits, which will be shared with the Department of Labor for three years.
In January, three Department of Homeland Security officials told NBC News that federal investigators were looking into whether any of the children were victims of labor trafficking.
Homeland Security Investigations agents interviewed children who worked cleaning a slaughterhouse in Grand Island, Nebraska, they said.
There is no indication that DHS is investigating PSSI for human trafficking. Instead, two DHS officials said, DHS is investigating to rule out the possibility that outside traffickers forced the children to work for PSSI and profited from their work.