Food Production Giants Face Child Labor Probe

child labor
Perdue Farms | Image by refrina

The U.S. Labor Department has launched an investigation into two of the nation’s biggest poultry producers regarding their labor practices.

Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods are under federal investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division over reports that the two companies allegedly utilized underage labor in the overnight cleaning operations of their production plants.

The investigation into Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods began after a recent exposé by The New York Times, which detailed the alleged account of a 14-year-old boy who nearly lost his arm while working at a Perdue slaughterhouse in Virginia. Children under the age of 18 made up a third of the overnight shifts at the facility, the story reported.

A Perdue spokesperson denied the allegation, noting that the company maintains strict policies against hiring underage workers.

“We take the legal employment and safety of each individual working in our facilities very seriously and have strict, longstanding policies in place for Perdue associates to prevent minors from working hazardous jobs in violation of the law,” Perdue spokesperson Andrea Staub said in a statement to NPR.

While Perdue Farms refuted the allegation, Staub confirmed to NPR that the company is aware of the federal probe, plans to cooperate with investigators, and will be conducting a “third-party audit of child labor prevention and protection procedures.”

Child labor violations in the U.S. have risen over the past 10 years.

According to Labor Department statistics, a total of 3,876 minors were determined to be wrongfully employed at companies across 835 cases in 2022. This marked a 37% increase from the previous year and a 283% increase compared to the low in 2015. Meanwhile, the number of minors per case over the past decade has risen from an average of two in 2013 to five in 2022.

Tyson Foods told NPR on Monday that it was unaware of the investigation and declined to comment.

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