A top international food company terminated all its contracts with Packers Sanitation Services Inc., or PSSI, after a Labor Department investigation found that more than 100 children — some as young as 13 — had been hired by PSSI to clean slaughterhouse floors at night.
Cargill, a global food producer, told NBC News that it ended its relationship with PSSI in March, after the Labor Department report, and that it has “zero tolerance” for the use of underage labor. It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to perform the work, which includes using hazardous chemicals and cleaning potentially dangerous machines.
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Cargill, a global food producer, contracted PSSI to provide cleaning services at 14 of its large meatpacking plants. In February, the Labor Department found 26 minors working for PSSI — 25 children cleaning blood and animal parts off the floor at the Cargill plant in Dodge City, Kansas, and one child cleaning the Cargill plant in Fiona, Texas.
NBC News has reported extensively on PSSI’s child labor violations, recently interviewing a 16-year-old who said he was still working for PSSI at a slaughterhouse in Kansas, as well as interviewing people who said their stolen identities were used by others to secure jobs with PSSI.
In a statement, Cargill said it has notified PSSI that it has terminated all contracts for its sanitation services and is currently transitioning to “alternate solutions … without compromising our commitment to people and food safety.”
“To be clear, while the allegations settled between PSSI and the Department of Labor did not involve any claims of misconduct against Cargill, we will not tolerate the use of underage labor within our facilities or supplier network. Cargill is steadfast in ensuring fair and equitable labor practices for all employees who work in our facilities and holds all third parties to the highest ethical standards,” said a spokeswoman for Cargill.
PSSI declined to comment on Cargill’s decision, calling it an “individual customer matter.” Previously, PSSI has said it also has a zero-tolerance policy against employing children and is taking steps to find child workers who are using IDs to present themselves as adults.
On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sent a letter to 18 of the largest meat and poultry processors, saying that child labor in the meatpacking industry is a problem that cannot be ignored.
“While this issue is not unique to the food industry, it cannot be ignored that it is a problem,” said Vilsack, citing a statistic from the Department of Labor that child labor in the US has increased by 69% since 2018.
CORRECTIONS (April 14, 2023, 6:18 pm ET): A previous version of this article missed when Cargill ended its relationship with PSSI. It was in March, not February.