The company - a division of Monogram Food Solutions, a privately held manufacturer that posted $1.3bn in revenue in 2022 - was in violation of federal child labour hazardous laws by hiring at least two 16- and 17-year-olds to operate heavy machinery.
Child labour remains a major problem in the US.
Every year, millions of teens work in part-time or summer jobs. Early work experiences can be rewarding for young workers, providing opportunities for teens to learn important work skills.
However, the DOL estimates that between 1-2 million children are employed illegally by companies - often under exploitative conditions - an increase of 69% since 2018.
Globally, 60 million children - 63 million girls and 97 million boys - were in child labour at the beginning of 2020, accounting for almost 1 in 10 children worldwide, according to the European Commission.
The pandemic increased the number of children in income-poor households by an estimated 142 million - a 24% jump on the previous year - which forced underaged children into labour to supplement meagre household incomes. SDG Goal 8.7 calls for the elimination of all forms of child labour by 2025.
A scourge in this country
“The Department of Labor and the Biden-Harris administration see child labour as a scourge in this country and will not tolerate violations of child labour laws,” said Seema Nanda, US solicitor of labour.
“This case shows we will use all of our legal resources - including invoking the ‘hot goods’ provision - as we announced as part of an increased emphasis on combating child labour to prevent companies from profiting from illegal child labour.
“Regardless of age, all workers in the US are protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and all employers must abide by all of its provisions.”
The ‘hot goods’ provision of the FLSA prohibits employers from shipping products made illegally by child labour.
The DOL issued Monogram with an Objection to Shipment letter after its 28 March investigation. The company agreed on 24 April to start withholding shipments while it worked with the department on compliance.
On 6 July, it agreed to fully comply with the FLSA’s child labour provisions at all of its production facilities and to pay $30,276 in civil money penalties for the child labour violations in Chandler.
The company also agreed to hire a compliance specialist within 90 days to monitor compliance with child labour provisions at all its facilities, using the US Labor Department’s Youth Employment Compliance Assistance Toolkit.
The DOL proceeded to lift its Objection to Shipment.
“Our company does not want - and has a zero-tolerance policy for - ineligible underage labour and we have fully cooperated with this process,” said Monogram in a statement.
“We take our legal obligations and our longstanding commitment to compliance very seriously, and immediately terminated the two ineligible workers who appear to have used falsified documentation relating to their identity or age in the hiring process.”
Breaking child labour laws
“Employers are legally responsible to take all appropriate actions to verify that they are not employing children and other young people illegally.”
The findings at Monogram are the latest to come to light as the DOL has stepped up its efforts to combat child labour.
“As we made clear earlier this year, the Department of Labor and the Biden-Harris administration are committed to combating the increase we have seen in child labour violations,” said principal deputy wage and hour administrator Jessica Looman.
“In this case, Monogram should have never allowed two children to operate hazardous equipment. After our initial investigation, Monogram Meat Snacks and its parent company have agreed to take important steps to prevent future child labour violations.
“Employers are legally responsible for training their management, hiring specialists and front-line supervisors to recognise potential child labour violations and to take all appropriate actions to verify that they are not employing children and other young people illegally.”
In April, Brazilian meat giant JBS’s US subsidiary ended its contract with Packers Sanitation Services Inc (PSSI) after the cleaning firm was fined $1.5m for illegally employing more than 100 children.
In May, SDI of Neil LLC - the owner of six Sonic Drive-In locations in Nevada - was fined $71,182 for breaking 170 child labour laws by hiring 14- and 15-year-olds to work impermissible hours and operate manual deep fryers.
Monogram Meat Snacks produces meat snacks, appetizers, assembled sandwiches, baked goods and other convenience products for private label sale in Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.