The Biden-Harris Administration sent a letter Wednesday to the meat and poultry industry urging them to examine their supply chains for child labor infractions.
The letter comes as a result of an uptick in children being illegally employed by companies. In February, one of the nation’s largest food processing companies — Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. — was fined $1.5 million as a result of over 100 underage workers discovered working in dangerous conditions at their meat plants.
“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,” the USDA’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in the letter.
Since 2018, officials report that the Department of Labor has seen a 69 percent increase in children employed illegally by companies. In total, 835 companies investigated employed over 3,800 children in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Vilsack asks meat and poultry companies in the letter to take precautionary steps to determine whether illegal child labor is used anywhere in their supply chains.
Companies are also encouraged to include “strong language” in contracts to prohibit illegal child labor in combination with reporting, monitoring, and auditing when appropriate.
According to Reuters, the letter was sent to 18 companies including Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, JBS USA, and Perdue Farms. In total, these companies account for an estimated 70 percent of meat and poultry production by volume in the United States.
“The food industry and USDA have a shared commitment to ensure that there is zero tolerance for illegal child labor,” wrote Vilsack, with further promises that procurement and regulation authorities will be ramping up oversight to “curb this recent trend as quickly as possible.”
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