Cleaning contractors hired by US meat processors Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms have been accused of employing child labour.

An article in The New York Times (NYT) suggested children as young as 13 were found to be working in the two companies’ slaughterhouses located on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

As a consequence of the publication’s report, the US Labor Department has launched an investigation, which includes Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms, the NYT said. The probe also takes in the cleaning contractors Fayette Industrial, which serves Perdue Farms’ slaughterhouses, and QSI in the case of Tyson Foods. QSI is part of the Vincit Group of companies.

The NYT identified one child in the eighth grade, named as Marcos Cux, whose arm was mangled in a conveyor belt last year as he sanitised a deboning area in the Perdue plant.

Other cases of child labour have also recently come to light. Another US meat processor, Monogram Foods, was fined more than $30,000 this year by the Labor Department for violating child labour laws at one of its plants in Minnesota.

In April, the US subsidiary of Brazil-based meat major JBS ceased working with cleaning contractor Packers Sanitation Services (PSSI) after that business was fined $1.5m for using child labour.

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An investigation was also launched by the Labor Department into US snacks maker Hearthside Food Solutions amid suggestions of child labour. The company said in February it was “appalled” by the allegations, which also came to light through a NYT report.

The publication’s latest article on 23 September concerning Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms cited a response from the Labor Department’s chief legal officer Seema Nanda.

Nanda told the NYT in an interview the Biden administration is now looking into whether companies can be directly implicated when child labour is employed through contractors.

“We are long past the day when brands can say that they don’t know that they have child labour in their supply chain,” Nanda was quoted as saying. “The intention is to make sure that those higher up in the supply chain are holding their subcontractors and staffing agencies accountable.”

Spokespersons for Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms told the NYT that they would cooperate with any investigation, with both having policies prohibiting the use of child labour. The two companies were unaware that children were being employed at their Virginia plants, the newspaper reported.

Tyson Foods informed the publication it was now hiring cleaners directly in 40% of its slaughterhouses, while Perdue Farms has taken up the services of an auditor for an assessment of the company’s ‘policies’.

However, contacted by Just Food for comment, Tyson Foods said: “Tyson Foods has not been made aware of any investigation, and therefore, cannot comment.”

Perdue Farms, meanwhile, has yet to respond.