Monogram Foods has been hit with an additional fine in the US over the use of child labour at a meat snacks plant.

The US Department of Labor (DoL) had already fined the company $30,000 in July when an investigation launched in March by the government office discovered two children working at the company’s meat snacks factory in Chandler, Minnesota.

That figure has now risen to “at least 11” at the same Monogram Meat Snacks facility, the DoL said in a statement yesterday (10 October), “nine of whom operated hazardous machinery”.

The subsidiary of the Memphis, Tennessee-headquartered business, which is backed by investors Pritzker Private Capital and HF Capital, agreed to pay “civil money penalties” of $140,164 on 5 October, the DoL said.

Over the course of the investigation launched in March, the Department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) found that “Monogram employed five 17-year-olds, four 16-year-olds and two 15-year-olds in violation of federal child labour laws” at the Chandler facility.

Jessica Looman, the principal deputy administrator at the WHD, reiterated a commitment by the DoL and the Biden-Harris administration to stamp out the “troubling increase in child labour violations”.

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Instances of children being employed illegally in the US have risen 69% since 2018, the DoL noted.

Looman added: “No employer should ever jeopardise the safety of children by employing them to operate dangerous equipment. Employers are legally responsible to recognise potential child labour violations and to take all appropriate actions to verify that they are not employing children illegally.”

Monogram Foods said via a spokesperson that the company has amended its policies and procedures to avoid such instances happening in the future.

“Our company has zero tolerance for, and we do not want, any ineligible underage individuals working at any of our facilities,” it said in a statement provided to Just Food.

“We are disappointed to learn that following the DoL’s review of the records of hundreds of employees from the past three years, it identified nine former employees who the DoL states were employed in the past in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) age requirements.

“We believe the significant companywide improvements, including voluntary measures, we have made to our existing policies and procedures make it significantly less likely this will occur again in the future as we strive to continue to meet our high standards for compliance.”

Monogram Foods is engaged in co-manufacturing of meat snacks, bacon, appetisers, corn dogs, sandwiches and baked goods, as well as private label.

Under a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act – the so-called ‘hot goods’ provision – Monogram Foods had also been prohibited from shipping beef jerky, cheese and sausage from the Chandler plant, according to the DoL.

Monogram Foods’ spokesperson clarified the order only applied to the Chandler facility and for a limited range of goods, adding that the directive was lifted in July.

The company was instructed by the district court in Minnesota on 6 July to take steps to “ensure compliance” with the Act, with measures to include hiring consultants to conduct audits across its factory network and provide an anonymous phone line for the reporting of suspected child labour violations by employees.

Seema Nanda, the US government’s solicitor of labour, said: “The employment of children in hazardous occupations cannot be allowed here in the US or in any other nation.

“In this and similar cases, we have put companies that employ children to produce goods illegally on notice that we will stop them from shipping and selling goods produced under the ‘hot goods’ provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act.”