After discovering that it had hired dozens of children to clean meatpacking plants on overnight shifts, investigators found that a major US food sanitation company had agreed to pay $1.5m (£1.25m).
The Department of Labor reported that Packers Sanitation Services employed more than a hundred teenagers aged 13 to 17.
This was a “systemic” failure, according to the Company.
Laws in many countries restrict the number of hours teenagers can work and prohibit hiring anyone younger than 14.
According to a company spokesperson, Packers Sanitation Services has a “zero-tolerance policy” against hiring anyone under the age of 18. The company has conducted multiple audits and provided additional training in response to the allegations.
The majority of those named by officials had left the company “multiple years ago,” the spokesperson added.
To further enforce their policy against hiring anyone under 18, they stated their “full commitment to working with [the Department of Labor] to make additional improvements.”
The Department of Labor began its investigation last year, and this settlement ended it.
At least three teenagers were hurt while cleaning power tools with toxic chemicals, according to the report.
According to company officials, the company allegedly ignored red flags from within and then tried to obstruct the investigation.
According to Jessica Looman, principal deputy administrator of the Department of Labor’s wage and hour division, “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.”
Employers’ failure to take responsibility for preventing child labor violations is “what allowed these children to be employed in meat packing plants in the first place,” Ms. Looman said.
The teenagers toiled in 13 different plants across eight states.
Officials said the maximum fine per person was around $15,000 (£12,400).
The years following the 2008-2009 financial crisis saw a decline in teen employment as job growth slowed. However, it has risen dramatically since the pandemic as businesses struggled to fill open positions.
The U.S. Department of Labor became increasingly concerned about the use of child labor last summer.
More than 800 child labor violations involving nearly 4,000 minors were handled by the agency in 2022, a significant increase from 2015.
Federal law in the United States prohibits hiring anyone younger than 14 years old. Children between the ages of 14 and 15 are prohibited from working after 7 p.m. during the school year and after 9 p.m. during the summer.
They are only allowed to work three hours a day during school hours, eight hours a day outside of school hours, and no more than eighteen hours a week.