Eastern Shore poultry plants under child labor probe
The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating allegations of child labor violations at the Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms poultry plants in Accomack County, after The New York Times recounted the story of a 14-year-old Guatemalan boy who was gravely injured while cleaning a Perdue slaughterhouse.
Marcos Cux, whose arm was permanently crippled in a February 2022 conveyor belt incident at an Accomack plant, worked for a contractor hired by Perdue that employed migrant children as young as 13 to clean “blood, grease and feathers from industrial machines,” often using acid and pressure hoses, according to the newspaper’s report. It appears to be the first time the agency has attempted to hold companies liable for child labor violations by a subcontractor. Two cleaning contractors also are under investigation, according to the Times.
After the story was published Sept. 22, the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division opened inquiries into Tyson and Perdue, a DOL spokesperson confirmed: “No additional details can be provided as the investigations are ongoing.”
The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry said it is unable to discuss ongoing child labor investigations, but added the department “is concerned about the safety of all workers, including youth workers, throughout the commonwealth and [is]troubled by the alleged behavior.”
Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation, a nonprofit trade association representing the industry, says that the state’s poultry plants in the Eastern Shore and the Shenandoah Valley are “early adopters” of the federal E-Verify system, which allows employers to confirm their employees’ eligibility to work in the United States.
The Times story, however, reports that underage workers often use faked documents to appear older. That’s “a challenge,” Bauhan says, and the poultry industry “is not immune from the possibility of someone using false documentation to try and get through. We as an industry do not condone false eligibility.”
Further, Bauhan says that “it’s incumbent upon the federal government” to address problems with the U.S. immigration system, particularly when children come to the country unaccompanied by parents and are under pressure to send money home.
Perdue issued a statement, saying that it was conducting a “third-party audit of child labor prevention and protection procedures, including a compliance audit of contractors and identity fraud review,” and would cooperate fully with the government. A Tyson spokesperson said in October the company had no comment.