Vilsack to processors: Crack down on child labor

United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wrote a letter to major meat and poultry processors in the country, urging them to take precautionary steps to prevent or eliminate illegal child labor.

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Tom Vilsack | USDA
Tom Vilsack | USDA

United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wrote a letter to major meat and poultry processors in the country, urging them to take precautionary steps to prevent or eliminate illegal child labor.

Those steps, according to a press release from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) include determining whether illegal child labor is being used anywhere in their supply chain, including strong language in contracts, and adopting standards that will better guard against the use of illegal child labor.

“The use of illegal child labor — particularly requiring that children undertake dangerous tasks—is inexcusable, and companies must consider both their legal and moral responsibilities to ensure they and their suppliers, subcontractors, and vendors fully comply with child labor laws. Companies in food manufacturing — particularly those with significant market power—need to be vigilant about the standards of their suppliers to help reduce systemic violations and abuses,” Vilsack wrote.

“The food industry and USDA have a shared commitment to ensure that there is zero tolerance for illegal child labor. In recent months, it has been brought to light that there is a growing problem in the industry, and we believe that together, we can develop meaningful strategies to prevent or eliminate illegal child labor. For USDA, this means that we will use our procurement and regulatory authorities to provide the necessary attention and increased oversight to curb this recent trend as quickly as possible.”

According to the release, the U.S. Department of Labor has seen a 69% increase in the illegal employment of children since 2018. One of the most recent instances of child labor law violations came to light when Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI), which services the meat and poultry industry, paid $1.5 million in civil penalties after investigators learned that PSSI had employed at least 31 children – ranging in age from 13 to 17 – in hazardous occupations to clean dangerous powered equipment during overnight shifts at JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota, and at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, Minnesota. 

Further investigations revealed PSSI also had youths working at plants operated by Tyson Foods, George’s Inc., Maple Leaf Farms, Cargill, Buckhead Meat of Minnesota, Gibbon Packing and Greater Omaha Packing.

USDA identified the recipients of the letter as: Cargill, Conagra Brands, Clemens Food Group,  Foster Farms, Indiana Packers Corp., JBS USA, Koch Foods, Mar-Jac Poultry, Mountaire Farms, Claxton Poultry, Perdue Farms, Pilgrim’s Pride, Quality Pork Processors, Seaboard Foods, Simmons Prepared Food, Smithfield Foods, Triumph Foods; and Tyson Foods.

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