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Children continue to work at poultry processor, Labor Department says, even after teen worker’s recent death

<i>Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>The U.S. Department of Labor said in a complaint that it found children working at a Mar-Jac Poultry facility.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
The U.S. Department of Labor said in a complaint that it found children working at a Mar-Jac Poultry facility.

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner, CNN

New York (CNN) — Children have again been found working at a Mar-Jac Poultry slaughterhouse, according to the US Department of Labor. The latest discovery in Alabama comes less than a year after a teen worker was killed at a company facility in Mississippi.

In a civil complaint filed May 7, the DOL said that investigators at its wage and hour division “discovered oppressive child labor at [Mar-Jac’s] poultry processing facility, namely children working on the kill floor deboning poultry and cutting carcasses.” The complaint added that “the children had been working at the facility for months.”

Mar-Jac operates facilities in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. The DOL’s recent allegation follows an incident last year in which a teen died at a Mar-Jac facility in Mississippi.

According to Mar-Jac Poultry Alabama’s website, “Mar-Jac Poultry does not sell to the general public, individual restaurants or convenience stores. We sell primarily to wholesale distributors and various national fast food establishments.” It didn’t list which fast food companies it supplied.

A DOL spokesperson told CNN Tuesday that “the wage and hour division has multiple ongoing investigations of Mar-Jac plants in Alabama and Mississippi.”

Federal labor law bans children from certain jobs in slaughterhouses and meat packaging plants, including using or cleaning machinery, because of the hazardous conditions.

In the May complaint, the Labor department said Mar-Jac had employed “several minors under the age of 18 in the particularly hazardous occupations of working on the kill floor.” The jobs included “hanging poultry along fast-moving machine lines, de-boning poultry, and cutting poultry carcasses.”

The complaint added that products coming out of the facility through the end of the month are “tainted by child labor,” making them “hot goods” under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

That means Mar-Jac has been “unjustly enriched, accruing substantial ill-gotten gains,” by shipment of these goods in violation of labor law, the complaint said.

“Mar-Jac will continue to vigorously defend itself and expects to prevail in this matter,” according to a company statement sent to CNN. “Mar-Jac is committed to complying with all relevant laws, including but not limited to the child labor regulations, and already has taken affirmative steps to go beyond what the regulations require.”

The workers in question had given the company documents showing they were over 18, according to the statement, which noted that Mar-Jac has a policy against hiring minors.

The allegations come after a 16-year-old worker was killed at a Mar-Jac processing plant in Mississippi in July. He was the second employee who died while working at the facility in just over two years.

Mar-Jac Poultry told CNN at the time that the teen died from injuries suffered in what it described as an “accident.” The company added that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which reviews workplace injuries among other labor issues, was investigating the incident with the “full support and cooperation of the company.”

Earlier this year, the DOL proposed a $212,646 fine against the processor. When asked about the status of the request by CNN, the spokesperson said that the department can’t offer further comment as its investigations are ongoing.

The Labor Department has lately been trying to crack down on incidents of child labor, especially at meatpacking facilities. In February 2023, the Department of Labor and Health and Human Services said that they were increasing efforts to fight child labor. The DOL noted at the time that it had seen a 69% increase in the illegal employment of children by companies.

A janitorial company was recently fined $649,000 after an investigation found it hired minors for dangerous jobs cleaning slaughterhouses.

Fayette Janitorial Service had employed at least 24 children, including those as young as 13, according to the DOL investigation. The minors had been working overnight shifts at two separate slaughter facilities, according to the DOL.

— CNN’s Parija Kavilanz and Amy Simonson contributed to this report.

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