Tyson Foods’ Green Forest plant implicated in child labor investigation

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 9,684 views 

Photo from the U.S. Department of Labor of a child working in a slaughterhouse.

Springdale-based Tyson Foods and George’s Inc. were among the 13 companies found to have used Packer Sanitation Services who hired minority workers ages 13-17 working overnight shifts in plants around the country.

The U.S. Department of Labor said Packers Sanitation Services employed minors to work in meat packing plants on third-shift sanitation crews. The Labor Department found 102 children between the ages 13 and 17 working in hazardous occupations.

Tyson Foods plant in Green Forest is reported to have had 6 minors working, resulting in fines of $90,828 by the Labor Department against Packers Sanitation. Tyson’s plant in Goodlettsville, Tenn., was found to have one minor, and that penalty was $15,138. The investigation found Springdale-based George’s Inc. had four minors working its Batesville, Ark. plant. That penalty was $60,552.

Tyson Foods did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.

The largest number of minor workers (27) were found in the JBS Foods plant in Grand Island, Neb., resulting in fines of $408.726. JBS Foods also had 22 minors working in the Worthington, Minn., plant, resulting in a fine of $333,036. Cargill’s Dodge City, Kan., meat packing facility had 26 minors resulting in a fine of $393,588.

Packers Sanitization was fined a total of $1.5 million for using minors in the 13 meat packing facilities owned by the nation’s largest packers. The Labor Department said the employer’s payment of civil money penalties is the result of the division’s investigation of Wisconsin-based Packers Sanitation Services Inc. that began in August 2022.

“Our investigation found Packers Sanitation Services’ systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags. When the Wage and Hour Division arrived with warrants, the adults – who had recruited, hired and supervised these children – tried to derail our efforts to investigate their employment practices,” said Labor Department investigator Michael Lazzeri.

The division found that children were working with hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment including back saws, brisket saws and head splitters. Investigators learned at least three minors suffered injuries while working for the sanitation service provider.

“The child labor violations in this case were systemic and reached across eight states, and clearly indicate a corporate-wide failure by Packers Sanitation Services at all levels,” said Principal Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division Jessica Looman. “These children should never have been employed in meat packing plants and this can only happen when employers do not take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place.”

The meat packing industry is not the only one under investigation. The Department of Labor also said it had launched an investigation into Hearthside Food Solutions, a food processing company with locations in Grand Rapids, Mich., that produces Chewy and Nature Valley Granola bars and package Lucky Charms and Cheetos. The plant was found to employ migrant children.

There has been a 69% increase in children illegally working at U.S. companies since 2018, the Labor Department said. The agency said it has 600 ongoing child labor investigations and it found 835 companies in the last fiscal year that violated labor laws employing more than 3,800 children.