Meat snack maker fined $140K, faced shipping restrictions for child labor violations

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Dive Brief:

  • A manufacturer of meat and cheese snacks has agreed to pay more than $140,000 in civil penalties and stop shipping certain products after at least 11 children were found to be employed illegally at a Minnesota factory.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor found Monogram Meat Snacks employed children ages 15 to 17 at its meatpacking and processing facility in Chandler, Minnesota. At least nine were operating hazardous machinery, a statement said.
  • In addition to the fine, Monogram was temporarily barred from shipping beef jerky, cheese and other snack foods under the “hot goods” provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The company said goods are again shipping normally and the provision impacted one plant.

Dive Insight:

Federal officials are cracking down on child labor violations after seeing a significant rise in the number of minors unlawfully employed in facilities over the past few years. Since 2018, the Labor Department has reported a 69% increase in the illegal use of child labor.

In February, the Biden administration announced it would take a tougher stance on child labor violations, including heavier penalties for employers that break the law. By restricting Monogram’s shipping activity, Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said the department is putting “companies that employ children to produce goods illegally on notice.”

“This case’s resolution makes clear the Department of Labor will not tolerate companies seeking to profit by illegally employing children,” she said. “Child labor abuses are a stain on our nation, and we will continue to utilize every tool and legal strategy at our disposal to keep young people safe.”

The “hot goods” provision allows the Labor Department to seek a court order to prevent interstate commerce of goods produced using child labor. Products already on retail shelves, however, generally can continue to be sold, according to a fact sheet.

Child labor violations have roiled the meatpacking industry this year, with hundreds of children found to work illegally at plants, often through third-party suppliers. A sanitation firm was fined over $1.5 million in February after more than 100 children were found cleaning slaughterhouses owned by JBS and other food giants. Late last month, the Department of Labor confirmed it was investigating Tyson and Perdue for allegations that child migrants were employed and sometimes seriously injured at slaughterhouses.

Monogram agreed to reform hiring practices after the Labor Department found two teens working at the Chandler plant in June. The $140,000 fine comes after investigators found an additional nine children working at the facility.

“We have implemented processes and procedures over the last several years that significantly exceed federal requirements, including no longer employing anyone under the age of 18, and we believe additional enhancements we’ve made will make sure this doesn’t happen again,” a spokesperson said in an email.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called on meat companies in April to ensure that their supply chains are free from child labor, noting violations are becoming “a growing problem in the industry.”

“[W]e will use our procurement and regulatory authorities to provide the necessary attention and increased oversight to curb this recent trend as quickly as possible,” Vilsack said in a letter to the meat and poultry industries.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Monogram and to clarify that shipping restrictions are no longer in place.

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