(VitalNews.org) – A Minnesotan meat processing plant has agreed to pay fines worth $300,000 after evidence emerged of illegal child labor being used on site. The Tony Downs Food Company, situated in Mankato, Minnesota, found itself subject to investigation after concerns arose around its employment practices. The investigation found children as young as 13 working overly long hours and in hazardous conditions that contravened state law.
The investigation homed in on the two years between January 26, 2021, and January 26, 2023, and established that underage workers were made to use meat grinders, operate forklifts and ovens, and even work overnight shifts. The state’s Child Labor Standard Act forbids children under the age of 16 from working past nine o’clock at night or for more than eight hours per day. It also prohibits children from working in hazardous situations. In all, the company was found to have hired eight teenagers between the age of 13 and 17 whose employment conditions breached the Act.
The Minnesota Labor Department determined that the employer was aware that underage children were working in illegal conditions. Not only that, but the minors were working under false identities, and were not native English speakers.
Although Tony Downs Food Company continues to dispute the alleged violations of state law, as per their agreement with the Minnesota Department of Labor they have agreed not only to pay the $300,000 penalty, but also to take steps to prevent future breaches of employment law. These steps include hiring a third-party consultant who will advise the company on correctly complying with necessary laws and regulations. A company spokesperson has called the penalties “disproportionate” and claims that the family-run business is being made an example of in order to encourage compliance across the food industry as a whole.
Nicole Blissenbach, the Labor Department’s commissioner, emphasized the need to take violations of child labor laws seriously, and said that her department was committed to using the full capabilities of the law to fight such transgressions.
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