Last summer, the federal Department of Labor opened an investigation into Packer Sanitation Services, Inc. (PSSI) to determine if the Wisconsin-based company was using child labor to clean slaughterhouses. The company provides cleaning services for over 700 locations nationwide, including JBS, the world’s largest meatpacking company.
The Labor Department looked into company records from 50 different locations, and found that at least 31 children, one as young as 13 and many 14, were illegally employed by Packer Sanitation Services and worked the graveyard shift in at least three separate locations, mostly in Nebraska and Minnesota. These instances not only violate federal age restrictions (children under 14 should not work at all), but also work hour rules, with minors not allowed to work after 7pm when school is in session, or after 9pm during the summer. They also are not allowed to work more than three hours on school days or more than 18 hours per week. PSSI was violating just about every child labor law on the books! And these jobs are potentially dangerous, with workers cleaning heavy machinery and blades, and use of harsh chemicals is the norm.
While there is speculation that the children may have been victims of human trafficking, the simple reality for most is that they are poor working-class children whose families need money, combined with a company that wants to pay the lowest wages possible. And since this investigation only looked at 50 of the 700 locations that PSSI cleans, it is likely that the use of children is or was more widespread than the report can prove.
While modern cleaning methods may have made meat less deadly than it was in 1906 when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, the drive for profit is still the same, and so is the brutal exploitation of workers, children included. As long as meatpacking for profit exists, so will these conditions, unless we fight back against such outrages.