New York CNN —
The Department of Labor is investigating meat and chicken processors Perdue and Tyson Foods following a New York Times magazine report of minors working at their facilities. Earlier this year, the federal government committed to ratcheting up efforts to root out child labor law violations.
“There are currently [Wage and Hour Division] investigations open at Perdue and Tyson Foods,” a Department of Labor spokesperson told CNN. “No additional details can be provided as the investigations are ongoing.”
Earlier this month, the Times Magazine published the story of a migrant child who was severely injured while working for a sanitation company contracted by a Perdue slaughterhouse in Virginia. The in-depth report mentioned several other underage migrant workers, including some who worked at Tyson facilities. The Times later reported that the companies were under investigation.
Perdue “[plans] to cooperate fully with any government inquiry on this matter,” company spokesperson Andrea Staub told CNN in response to a request for comment about the government investigation. “We are conducting a comprehensive third-party audit of child labor prevention and protection procedures including a compliance audit of contractors,” she said. Perdue will take “appropriate actions” based on the findings.
Perdue has “strict, longstanding policies in place for Perdue associates to prevent minors from working hazardous jobs in violation of the law,” Staub said in the statement. “We hold our sanitation contractors to the same high standards.”
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley recently sent an open letter to Tyson CEO Donnie King, asking for more information about that company’s child labor practices. Tyson did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Government agencies have joined together this year to fight child labor law violations, which often impact migrant children.
In February, the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services jointly announced the creation of a task force designed to fight child labor exploitation. Over the summer, the government task force said that it has so far made it easier to share information among agencies and implemented training across departments as part of its effort to crack down on violations, among other accomplishments.
“We see every day the scourge of child labor in this country, and we have a legal and a moral obligation to take every step in our power to prevent it,” Marty Walsh, then US secretary of labor, said when the task force was announced.
Walsh added that the companies that use contractors have been able to evade scrutiny.
“Too often, companies look the other way and claim that their staffing agency, or their subcontractor or supplier is responsible,” he said. “Everyone has a responsibility here.”
A Department of Labor investigation found in February that Packers Sanitation Services, a major US food sanitation company, illegally employed at least 102 children between the ages of 13 and 17. The investigation found that minors were employed in hazardous occupations and worked overnight shifts at 13 JBS and Cargill meat processing facilities in eight states.
Packers Sanitation Services paid $1.5 million in civil penalties as a result of the investigation.
“Our company has a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18 and fully shares the DOL’s objective of ensuring full compliance at all locations,” a spokesperson for Packers Sanitation said at the time. The company said none of the underage workers are still employed by the company, and that “many” of them had worked there years ago.
— CNN’s Ramishah Maruf and Nicole Goodkind contributed to this report.