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Child Labor in Meatpacking

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Capital mobility can hamper decent labor protections in a few ways. As I pointed out in Out of Sight (amazingly that book came out 8 years ago, man I gotta finish these new projects as the book publication drought is getting irritable to me), companies move production out of the United States to avoid labor and environmental protections, but in the food industry, the process was to move much of the production to other parts of the United States. In other words, the meatpacking industry moving from Chicago to rural Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, North Carolina, and other states was an intentional move (in this case, a quite deliberate move by the vastly overrated Eisenhower administration) to bust the meatpacking unions, keep prices low, and exploit labor all you want.

And this is the upshot of us not paying attention to our meatpacking industry working conditions:

Federal investigators are looking into whether 50 children — some as young as 13 — who were allegedly illegally employed cleaning Midwestern slaughterhouses were victims of labor trafficking, three officials from the Department of Homeland Security told NBC News.

Homeland Security Investigations agents have interviewed children who worked cleaning a JBS Foods slaughterhouse in Grand Island, Nebraska, the officials say.

There is no indication DHS is investigating the company that hired the children, Packers Sanitation Services Inc., or PSSI, for human trafficking. Instead, said two DHS officials, DHS is investigating to rule out the possibility that outside traffickers may have forced children to work for PSSI and profited off their labor.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, a division of DHS, said, “Due to an ongoing investigation, Homeland Security Investigations cannot comment at this time,” and referred questions to the U.S. Labor Department.

In December, as a result of an investigation by the Labor Department and a civil suit filed against the company by the government, PSSI agreed to a consent order with the department and agreed to abide by child labor laws. Labor investigators had found a total of 50 children working for PSSI in at least five locations, including the Grand Island plant and a second JBS Foods plant in Worthington, Minnesota. 

Federal officials argued the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibits “oppressive child labor” and minors from working in any kind of hazardous employment, according to the complaint from December. The Labor Department’s Child Labor Regulations designate many roles in slaughterhouse and meatpacking facilities as hazardous for minors.

In court filings, the company did not deny hiring children but attributed it to “rogue individuals” who presented fake identification with Social Security numbers that were verified by the federal government’s E-Verify system.

Rogue individuals, eh? Sure, if we consider the people who run JBS, one of the worst meatpacking companies, rogue individuals. At least we have a Department of Labor that presently cares about such issues. If any generic Republican was president? No way.

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